By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday, June 16, to review the county’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget.
The meeting was attended by representatives of county departments.
The budget draft can be found on Dade County’s website, dadecounty-ga.gov, by clicking on “Government” and then “FY-2023 Budget Dade County Georgia.”
The proposed budget total is $13,415,000, which is an increase of 2.06 percent from this year’s budget of $13,144,000.
General Government was allocated $3,301,300. General Government includes several departments and offices, including Administration, Maintenance, Information Technology, Tax Commissioner, Tax Assessor, Elections, Economic Development and Judicial Administration.
Public Safety, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, Jail, Emergency Services, Courts, Fire and Rescue, Coroner, Community Watch, Juvenile Justice, and Animal Control was allocated $7,143,600.
Public Works, which includes roads, the Transfer Station, and Maintenance Shop, was allotted $1,674,500.
Health and Welfare, which includes the Board of Family and Children Services, Board of Public Health, and Public Transportation was allotted $854,500.
Culture and Recreation, which includes Parks and Recreation, the Dade County Public Library, and the Senior Center was allocated $441,100.
“I want to commend all of you, all the elected officials and constitutional officers for working with us. It has been a long process. It is a different year than we’ve had in the past, with the expense of everything going up, but we do have a proposed balanced budget,” County Executive Ted Rumley said.
Rumley also noted that there would be no millage rate increase.
“I was really worried, and I worry every year around this time, but the way it looks right now, we feel good. Some of these counties in our region will probably have some drastic millage rate increases,” Rumley said.
“We know that our employees have needs. Rent is up, food is more expensive, fuel is up. So, we have proposed a seven percent increase for cost-of-living allowance,” Don Townsend, Dade County Clerk and Finance Officer, said.
Townsend continued, “In a time when inflation has been out of control, we have seen everything go up. Fuel has doubled. Health insurance did go up, 12.6 percent. Property insurance did increase, 22 percent. That’s a big increase, but it’s mostly due to inflation. We have also seen vehicle repairs increase, and the reason for that is that we can’t get new cars.”
Some officials asked for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) raise for their employees, citing rising inflation.
Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library System noted that they hope to get a COLA.
“It takes about $180,000 to run that branch [Dade County]. Out of that $180,000 we get $10,000 from the state for books, and about $6,000 comes in the form of fines and fees. The rest of that comes from the support of the county, the Board of Education, and the city. We did ask for a slight increase. We want to do a four percent COLA for this branch locally. We have asked all three of our funding agencies for their share of that portion. We appreciate your efforts,” Eubanks said.
Jad Johnson, public defender for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, also asked for a COLA.
“We are asking for a modest COLA for our people, who have been suffering through cost increases of every kind. Some of my people, in real dollars, are making less than they did when they started, given price increases. Other than that, we strive to make everything else no different from last year’s budget.
Some officials did not ask for any increases in their portion of the budget, but still spoke before the Board of Commissioners, thanking them, and updating the Commissioners and the community on what is happening within that department.
Kathy Johnson, director of Dade County Division of Family and Children Services thanked the Commissioners for their support.
“For the fiscal year of 2022, we did see a rise in some child abuse investigations. We had 246 cases that we investigated. Sixteen of those children entered foster care, and out of those 16, we had to hotel three of those children, which is extremely costly for the state. When a child enters a hotel, you’re looking at $1,000 a night. We appreciate the budget you allow us to have, because we use a lot of that to prevent high-needs kids from coming into foster care, so we can prevent those $1,000 a night hotel stays,” Johnson said.
Courtney Gross, Dade County Coroner, explained that their work has changed and become more challenging due to COVID-19.
“We have been involved with hazardous situations, with sick individuals. Also, people weren’t getting the resources they needed at home. Companies or families weren’t checking in on people. Some of the situations were a little messier than what we’ve seen in the past. Currently, we are receiving $175 per case, or decedent. We have requested to increase the rate to $250 per case and I believe that we can pull from within our budget without having to request more money,” Gross said.
Alex Case, Director of Emergency Services spoke about how, while most costs are going up, they were able to save money elsewhere.
“I’m a very small part of a big picture. I am pleased to work with the county and the citizens and do what we do. We are there 24/7, between EMA, EMS and 911, none of us hardly leave. Someone always has to be around. Things are going up. Some of our contracted service labors are going up, things that we can’t do without. One thing we did, a phone upgrade, was use a different type of service, through Trenton Telephone, and we’re saving quite a bit of money month to month through their services,” Case said.
The full public hearing can be watched on the Dade County, Georgia Facebook page. There will be a special calling meeting on June 23, at 5 p.m. for a final reading and the adopting of the fiscal year 2023 budget.