Thursday August 27th, 2015 10:16PM

Banks County continuing its budget process

By Rob Moore Reporter
HOMER - The Banks County Commission is continuing to go through its 2015 budget line by line, reviewing each request from the county's department heads.

Tuesday night, commissioners met with Lisa Prescott of the Banks County Adult Learning Center and Fire Chief Robert Wilkins, and discussed the funding request from Banks County Division of Family and Children's Services.

Commission Chairman Jimmy Hooper explained the process.

"It's basically the same thing we've done for several years here," Hooper said. "We look at every line item and we justify every amount. Just because a department had it the previous year doesn't necessarily mean they're going to have it this year. They have to have justification for those funds to be expended.

"We're always looking for ways to improve and get the most our of our tax dollars," Hooper said. "There are certain areas that we'd like to do that we just can't afford. It's like your personal budget - the wish list is far more than the money you have, so we face that in the county government."

Tuesday night, Prescott defended her $5,000 budget request, that would allow the adult education program to offer GED preparation classes to inmates at the Banks County Jail. The amount included a one-time expenditure of $500 for reusable materials. Classes would have been offered for two hours per day, three times a week.

She noted that successful GED completion has been shown to reduce recidivism among inmates, noting it costs Banks County $60 per day to house an inmate.

"If just one inmate did not return, you could justify that [$5,000] amount," Prescott said. "The cost to house an inmate for 90 days is $5,400."

But commissioners decided educating inmates should not be funded with county taxpayers' money.

Hooper outlined four issues he had with the proposal, including:

* If education of inmates is that important, it should be provided by the state through the Georgia Department of Corrections;

* If the inmate is not a Banks County resident, the county would be subsidizing adult literacy for another county;

* Length of stay for county inmates varies and the effort could be wasted if an inmate gets out or is transferred; and

* Such a program would be better as an outreach for a church or civic organization rather than coming from county tax coffers.

Commissioner Charles Turk agreed, saying it's not fair for an inmate to be tested at taxpayers' expense while non-incarcerated residents have to pay to take the test.

Ultimately, the consensus of the commission was to leave the current $500 in the budget rather than the requested $5,000.

After the meeting, Hooper elaborated on the adult education issue.

"I think it's a noble cause," Hooper said. "I was a school principal for 30 years. No one appreciates education as much as I do. I know that to make a positive change in any society it has to be through education."

Hooper reiterated the concerns he had with Banks County paying to tutor inmates.

"I was concerned about the length of stay that our inmates actually serve in Banks County," Hooper said. "Would it be worth our time and effort to get a person started and use up our resources and then that person serve their sentence or be transferred outside the county?

"The second thing I had was whether the person that's incarcerated in Banks County upon release is actually a Banks County citizen or not," Hooper said. "And the third thing is I really think this, for me, is an outreach program that should be done by a civic organization or church. On a personal level, I'd be more than glad to assist in any way I could on that. That's my views on it, and I think it was the consensus of the board the same way."

Also during the meeting, the commission, by consensus, reduced several line items in the fire department budget request, including general supplies, small equipment (with Wilkins encouraged to purchase necessary items in that category this fiscal year), general supplies, and testing. A program assistant line item was zeroed out.

Despite a request from Banks County DFCS for an increase to $30,000 due to the high number of foster children in the agency's care, the commission decided to leave the DFCS county contribution at the current level of $28,000.

Tuesday night's budget work meeting was the third of six in a series of such meetings with department heads to work through the numbers.

"There's a couple of big issues that we're looking at," Hooper said. "We're going to talk some more before the end of the process about personnel and the possibility of maybe some pay increases or adding additional staff, and we'll see at the end of the session how the tax digest might look for next year and anticipated funds. Everything is positive right now and we're moving ahead."

Additional budget work meetings will be held on the following dates and times:

* 9 a.m. Thursday, May 15;

* 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 21; and

* 4 p.m. Thursday, May 22.

Those meetings are open to the public.
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