With the July 1 deadline quickly approaching for the mid-year budget’s approval, the Upson County Board of Commissioners held a work session last week to discuss the budgets of the Health Department, Pine Mountain Regional Library, McIntosh Trial Counseling Center, Department of Family and Children’s Services, Griffin Judicial Circuit, District Attorney and Public Defender. Of those seven, the only two departments to not request an increase in funding from the county were the Public Defender, whose budget has remained $365,402 for the last several years, and the McIntosh Trail Counseling Center whose budget was the same as last year at $85,652 for Upson County’s portion of the total amount, which is over $700,000.
The Upson County Health Department requested a small increase of $873, which the board unanimously approved. Commissioner Steve Hudson noted the county had cut the health department’s budget by roughly $70,000 last year and this year’s increase could be a difference in the cost of pens to be used at the office. With the increase, the total budget for the Upson County Health Department was brought to $200,873.
The Pine Mountain Regional Library requested an increase of $1,000 on Upson County’s portion of their budget, with a $20,000 increase requested overall, leaving the total budget at just over $195,000. Of that amount, the Thomaston-Upson Board of Education pays $19,000, leaving the county’s portion at $176,662. After some discussion about the library being a joint project with the City of Thomaston, the board decided to leave the library’s budget at $175,662, which is what it was last year.
The Department of Family and Children’s Services requested a slight increase in their budget from last year to bring it to a total of $43,000. Earlier this year when the commissioners were preparing the 2014 county budget, they had cut the department from $37,000 to $25,000; however, that technically has not gone into effect yet since they function as a mid-year budget. LaResa Price, Director for DFCS, spoke to the board and explained that the numbers for foster children in Upson County has risen significantly over the past year and currently there are over 100 children in the program. She noted that what the state provides for children really does not cover much and the department tries to supplement things like clothing when possible.
Commissioner Hudson told the board that everyone made good cases as to why they needed the extra funding, but the only problem was going to be finding a way to do it without raising taxes. However, he felt the Department of Family and Children’s Services was in great need of more and made a motion to raise their budget to $40,000, which was passed unanimously.
This year the Griffin Judicial Circuit is requesting an increase of just over $40,500 from last year, which brings the total amount for Upson County’s portion to $176,673.41. Juvenile Court Judge Ben Miller, Jr. spoke to the board at the meeting about the reasoning behind a $25,000 increase in his department’s portion of the overall budget, which he noted is a supplement for both he and Associate Judge Karen Calloway. Judge Miller stated the supplement is to help both judges have a comparable salary of what other counties pay their juvenile court judges.
“I’m not asking to get in the ball park,” said Miller, “I’m just asking to get in the parking lot. The majority of our colleagues make at least $35,000 more.”
The average salary is $119,000 a year for a Juvenile Court Judge in a circuit similar to Upson’s, and currently Judge Miller is being paid $85,000 (which is reimbursed from the state) and Judge Calloway is being paid $80,000. The supplements that are requested are $15,000 for Judge Miller and $10,000 for Judge Calloway. Upson County pays 13 percent of the budget for the Griffin Judicial Circuit and for the supplements it would equal out to a $3,275 increase a year over what the county has been paying for the Juvenile Court. Judge Miller noted all three other counties in the circuit have agreed to pay their portion of the supplement already.
Commissioner Hudson told Judge Miller that any reservation the board has on the increase has nothing to do with either of the judges’ work, it merely comes down to money. However, the board feels the Juvenile Court Judges have one of the toughest jobs in the county and will definitely take the supplement increase into consideration.
The board had several other questions on the budget for the Griffin Judicial Circuit, but was unable to speak with District Court Administrator Will Simmons during the meeting. Therefore, they postponed any decision on the department’s budget until they could get their questions answered.
The final budget to be discussed was for the District Attorney’s Office. Chairman Blackston told the board the department was requesting a $40,000 increase from last year, which was partially for an increase in fuel costs for the vehicles the department uses. However, the commissioners were not in favor of raising the budget and voted to leave it at $200,142.92 which has been their budget for at least the last four years.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1