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Commissioners Set to Approve Proposed County Budget for Fiscal Year 2024 This Week

News Editor

The Dade County Board of Commissioners held the public hearing for the fiscal year 2024 proposed budget on June 8. No citizens (aside from those connected to county government) attended or came forward with questions, concerns, or comments.

Numerous department heads touched on needs in their areas, budget changes, growth and successes from the past year, and anticipated challenges. County Executive Ted Rumley reminded everyone, “This is a proposed budget. This is not locked in…If you’ve got any questions, that’s what we’re here for.”

He later said, “There’s not a commissioner up here, I don’t feel, this year, that feels we’re going to vote for a millage rate increase.” The millage rate has not yet been set.

The budgeted total revenue is $14.5 million, and the budgeted total expenses are $14.5 million. Don Townsend, chief financial officer and county clerk, explained near the end of the meeting, “We have a zero balance budget. What that means is there’s not much room for any error or any emergencies.”

Fiscal year 2023’s approved budget was $13,415,000. Fiscal year 2022’s budget was $13,144,000. These budgets are available on the county’s website at

The budget will be approved by the board on June 15 at 5 p.m. during another public hearing.

Carolyn Bradford (court administrator for the Juvenile Court) reported that they had 121 cases and approximately 600 hearings in the previous fiscal year. She reported, “My budget is reducing by $8,000.”

Rebecca Thomas (interim county extension coordinator) and Laura Beth Cunningham (4-H educator) reported on the UGA Extension and 4-H programs. Cunningham noted that they have expanded youth programs and hope to continue drawing families in.

Stephen Bontekoe (soil conservation technician representing the USDA) explained that his funding comes from a variety of sources. He said, “We’ve had several people make comments like, ‘Why don’t we just lower taxes and everybody can build their own fence?’ I’d probably be for that, but Congress has already spent the money. It’s federal; it’s not local, so my position is kind of a local coach to help our citizenry better understand how to bring those dollars home.”

Paula Duvall (chief appraiser for the Tax Assessor’s Office) reported, “Our budget covers supplies, equipment, staff, and utilities. We were fine with what was proposed by the county government.”

Just over 50% of the overall budget is for the justice system (sheriff’s office, jail, courts) and emergency services (including fire and rescue). Falling under this category were Kevin Baugh (chief assistant district attorney), Jad Johnson (circuit public defender), Joel McCormick (chief magistrate), Kerri Carter (probate court judge), Tommy Bradford (chief deputy with the Dade County Sheriff’s Office), Joe Chambers (jail administrator), Courtney Gross (coroner), and Rodney Ross (fire chief).

Many of these departments explained difficulties recruiting and retaining staff due to poor pay. The jail and the sheriff’s office noted the significant cost to cover inmates’ mental and physical health needs. All departments reported that inflation impacted their budgets. For example, while the coroner’s office was able to cut several thousand from their budget, Gross noted that the price of body bags has nearly doubled in the last year.

Regarding inmate expenses, Chambers explained, “We don’t have the resources here to take care of mental health. We have one individual costing us $3,000 a month…that turns me, not being a psychiatrist or psychologist, into trying to figure out how to deal with this problem.”

Rumley explained that per federal law, the sheriff’s office (and therefore the county and the taxpayers) are responsible for inmates’ expenses.

Ross noted the difficulties of volunteer fire departments, saying, “Like everybody else, we’re short on personnel. Y’all can offer people money; we can’t.”

Annette Cash reported that the senior center and transport program would like at least cost of living raises which they have not received in a number of years and both programs have other needs they hope to address.

Evan Stone (executive director for the Industrial Development Authority) reported that their budget is about $19,000 lower this year.

Stacy Stephens (head of Parks and Recreation as well as Building Maintenance and Electrical Inspections) said, “A lot of people are talking about the growth in the county…That affects me a lot…Last year, we had over 250 inspections on new homes. The more Dade County grows, the more cost it’s going to put on the commission, on everybody.”

Townsend thanked the commissioners, saying, “They have been in the office. They’ve made phone calls, texted me over the last couple of months, asked lots of good questions. This week, I’ve had all of them contact me.” He also thanked Rebecca Jones (deputy county clerk and CPA).

He concluded, “We all know [the cost of] everything’s up. We managed to get by last year okay, but we had to increase some things this year.”

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