FULTON COUNTY — Fulton County commissioners are the final stages of locking down the county’s 2020 budget, but first, they have to decide how to spend a $20.4 million windfall. 

The total budget is $1.78 billion, an increase of about 6.2 percent over the 2019 budget. The general fund budget, which pays for day-to-day operation of county government, sits at $758 million, up 5.5 percent.

The budget projects the county will be able to lower its property tax rate from 9.89 mills based on the multi-year financial plan and projected growth within the county. However, the tax rate will not be set until this summer.

The budget includes priorities already approved, such as a new $32.5 million animal shelter, the rollout of new election equipment, improvements to senior centers and senior services, and pay-for-performance employee compensation.

“Those investments in people and assets have allowed us to exceed our customer satisfaction targets of 80 percent again this year,” County Manager Dick Anderson said. “That’s four years in a row citizens have indicated a high level of satisfaction with our services.”

In 2019, the county exceeded its midyear revenue projections of $699 million by $24.7 million. With actual expenses passing expectations by $4.3 million, the county was left with an extra $20.4 million to consider for its 2020 budget. 

The 2020 budget leaves a reserve balance equal to 16.7 percent  of  total expenditures, but also allocates some of the additional money to strengthen IT infrastructure.

On Jan. 8, Commissioner Bob Ellis moved for approval of the county manager’s budget proposal, which was seconded by Commissioner Lee Morris. 

“Looking at what you’d originally proposed, looking at the changes here and where we want to focus and what’s going on around us in the environment, it’s a pretty fair and smart allocation of funds,” Ellis said. 

However, some commissioners were disappointed their requested items were not funded and wanted to see more funding for court services. 

“We took all requests from commissioners and departments and vetted them,” Anderson said. 

Some of the requested court improvements were not included in his recommendation because of the large number of vacancies in those department. Right now, he said, there are about 50 vacancies across the district attorney, solicitor general and public defender’s offices and more than 250 throughout the whole justice system. 

“We are recommending that we continue to work with the justice partners on reform and recommendations that are emerging before we add new resources,” Anderson said. “I think we have plenty of slack to pick up before additional resources are required.”

In a 4-3 vote the budget was held until the next meeting, with Ellis, Morris and Chair Robb Pitts casting the dissenting votes. 

The commissioners’ next scheduled meeting was set for Jan. 22. 

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