Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fulton budget includes tax hike, funding cuts to arts and Grady

Posted By on Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Fulton County's 2014 budget will increase pay for employees, avoid drastic cuts to Grady Memorial Hospital, and maintain funding for its courts and jails. And it'll do that with the help of the county's first property tax hike in 23 years.

After initially looking at a $99 million gap, Fulton commissioners approved its $569 million general fund budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The county's elected officials voted 5 to 2 in favor of a 15-percent property tax hike. Commissioners Robb Pitts and Liz Hausmann did not support the proposed budget.

"During this budget process economic sacrifices had to be balanced with the need to provide services to our residents," Chairman John Eaves said in a statement. "The funding is in place to solve many of our current needs."

The budget gives Fulton workers a 3-percent cost of living raise, the first increase of its kind in seven years, and invests $6.3 million into the county's embattled election division. At the same time, Fulton slashed arts funding nearly 20 percent. And many of the county libraries could shut their doors for up to two days per week to reduce spending.

Fulton's budget will contribute $45 million to Grady - that's $5 million less than the hospital received in 2013. Grady was initially looking at a potential $25 million cut that would've placed its mental-health services at risk. The funding, Eaves said, would come with stipulations that hospital officials remain transparent in how they spend the county's cash.

"In our conversation with Grady, they've committed that the dollars spent from Fulton County will only go to Fulton residents," Eaves said during yesterday's special meeting.

The AJC's David Wickert notes that Fulton's tax hike isn't sitting well with some state lawmakers. While Eaves thinks the mill rate increase is legal, the county may have to defend the budget in court:

The tax increase puts the county on a collision course with Republicans in the General Assembly, who last year passed a law prohibiting Fulton from raising property taxes until 2015. They say Wednesday's action violates that law.

"It will have to be resolved in the courts," said Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta. "But that would be disappointing to see Fulton County's tax dollars spent trying to defend such a blatantly illegal act."

You can view Fulton's 2014 fiscal year budget below:

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