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After four months of analysis and number-crunching, a draft of the 2018 budget for Elbert County was publicly presented to the Board of County Commissioners at the Oct. 11 BOCC meeting.
Although the numbers will likely be adjusted, the county budget for 2018 is tentatively set at $27.48 million.
This is a $4 million decrease from the projected final total in 2017, made possible by the Rush Creek Wind Farm project fees that the county has received from Xcel Energy.
Revenues are expected to increase roughly $1.1 million from the 2017 budgeted number, and expenses are expected to decrease roughly $1.3 million.
In the past, the county manager put together the annual budget, but that position had been left vacant with the June resignation of Ed Ehmann, who was not replaced until Sam Albrecht took over the post at the end of September. This year, County Treasurer Rick Pettitt acted as the budget officer, and Finance Specialist Kyrei Zion assisted to manage the process.
“Rick Pettitt was really skilled at the budget and picked up the ball,” said Commissioner Danny Willcox.
“We were able to start the process earlier, so we were able to get more involved with the departments … and do a more thorough job of going through it with them,” Pettitt said.
“The earlier we can get started on the budget and communicating with the departments, the better off the county is,” he said.
Some of the biggest changes include the addition of 15 county positions and allocations for rainy-day money.
Assessed valuation will increase in 2018, resulting in an increase in property tax received of around $1.6 million.
“The increase in taxes has allowed us to add employee positions that have been put off for quite a while,” Pettitt said.
More than $700,000 has been allocated for salary increases and 12 new positions in 2018, including an administration director and an assessment technician.
“The administration director serves the county internally and reports directly to the county manager,” Zion said, “and the assessment technician will work with the assessor but probably doesn't have to be an assessor.”
The county will also be hiring two DMV clerks, three deputies, four equipment operators, and an administrative support person for Road and Bridge.
Though residents may not see the other big change, Elbert County will essentially be no longer living paycheck to paycheck.
“We set up a strategic reserve account,” Willcox said. “What we truly wanted to do was guard against the fluctuations in the economy.
“We set up two funds, strategic reserves and contingency funds, and we put parameters on how that money could be used. That money will be securely invested to guard us against the ups and downs in the economy,” he said.
“We have a reserve to get us through times when the economy changes, which we've never had in the past several years since I've been in office,” Pettitt said.
The total for committed, contingency and reserve funding is $4,180,000.
Another change in the 2018 budget is an increase in salaries for elected officials.
“A state initiative forced the previous board to raise elected officials' salaries that hadn't been changed in many years,” Zion said.
The previous board of commissioners that included Robert Rowland, Larry Ross and Kelly Dore was tasked with choosing how much to raise county elected officials' salaries, opting for a 30 percent increase for anyone who took office after January 2016.
According to Zion's payroll record research, the salaries for elected officials had been the same since 2007.
The elected officials in Elbert County are the coroner, assessor, treasurer, surveyor, sheriff and commissioners.
The county commissioners are currently receiving the higher salaries, and the other elected officials will start receiving the higher salaries in 2019 and 2021, depending on when their new terms begin.
To compensate for the delay in salary increases, the county was able to provide extra funding for insurance to the elected officials whose pay remains at the lower level until the next election cycle, “which will go away when the salaries go up,” Zion said.
There will be a public hearing on the proposed budget on Nov. 8, where residents can provide their feedback.
Zion and Willcox stressed the importance of public involvement in finalizing the budget, saying they hoped for as many citizens as possible would attend the Nov. 8 hearing.
“Our goal is to have the budget approved by Dec. 20,” Zion said.
”We actually have a true organizational structure now,” Willcox said, “we were reactive to things until now. It's nice because we're going to be more proactive.”
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