Lee County faces financial trouble - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lee County faces financial trouble

October 14, 2005

Lee County- Lee County Commissioners raised the county's tax rate two mills Thursday night to bring in an extra 1.5 million dollars a year. That's not enough to make up for overspending in recent years that left Lee County with nearly nothing to fall back on in an emergency.

The Administrator and Commissioners say the tax increase should have been more and say they may need to raise taxes again next year. While Lee County Commissioners have approved balanced budgets over the last three years, they've gone back and amended those budgets and over spent by as much as one million dollars in 2004.

"In the last couple of years, the reserves have been used to balance the budget, you can't spend money out of the reserves, it's supposed to be left for emergency funds only," said Morris Leverett, Lee County Commissioner.

An additional million was needed in 2003 when the fire department went full time. Commissioners blame poor budgeting for the problems they're having now.

"They spent from $589,000 to 1.22 million dollars for full time firemen. Well, the budget has not allowed any more revenue to come in by raising the millage rate, so they balanced the budget by taking it out of reserves, so that's another million dollars gone now," said Leverett.

Until Thursday night, the millage rate in Lee County hasn't increased since 1996.

"That's the hard thing to do, the millage rate, but it's something you have to do, because, well now we got about $783,000 in the bank, so that can't pay a bill, you can't pay your bills," said Leverett.

Last year, 500 new homes were built in Lee County. Despite the growth, it doesn't generate enough taxes to cover the services those homes require. Commissioners say, they must improve the county's commercial development, which generates the most tax revenue.

"People don't want to spend money to make commercial come, and you just can't survive without good commercial coming in," said Leverett.

Protests forced commissioners to cut money from the budget that would have been spent for more commercial development. Now, commissioners will ask for a five million dollar tax anticipation loan and hope that they don't need to prioritize their bills in order to get them paid.

"We hope not, but I'm afraid it's going to get that way unless things turn around a little bit," said Leverett.

County leaders say the current budget is already short more than $800,000.

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