Editorial: Commissioners' disorganized budget process leaves the public out in the cold

Members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners plan to adopt the 2021 budget after a second and final mandated public hearing Monday night. Let's say you're civic-minded, or just plain curious, and you'd like to peruse the county's proposed budget to see how they want to spend your hard-earned tax dollars.

Do commissioners seek to increase spending at the sheriff's office?

Are they thinking about cutting the recreation department's budget?

Have they included $80,000 to partially fund the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., a nonprofit whose mission is to help people have safe housing?

Well, you're out of luck.

As of early Friday afternoon, commissioners still had not posted to the county website next year's proposed budget. If you clicked on the "Proposed 2021 Budget" link on the county's website, you got this: "2021 BUDGET COMING SOON!"

Over the past weeks, Commission Chairman Lynn Laughter and Commissioners Harold Brooker, Greg Jones and Barry Robbins have overseen a disjointed, disorganized and downright embarrassing budget process. That commissioners plan to vote on about $50 million in spending on Monday night and a thorough, tentative budget is still not available for public inspection is a slap in the face of Whitfield County taxpayers.

On Monday at the commissioners' first public "budget" hearing, all they had for the public was a "wish list" from department heads and constitutional officers. A wish list is not a budget. Could you imagine being asked by your supervisor to create a budget for your department and you present to him or her a pie-in-the-sky wish list? That wouldn't go well.

During the 42-minute hearing, commissioners discussed for 2021 a $51 million general fund budget, up from $49.4 million this year. That's down from the $54.6 million wish list posted on the county website and advertised in this newspaper. The proposal commissioners discussed Monday would hold the county's maintenance and operations property tax rate at 8.312 mills. Commissioners cut the tax rate by .5 mills this year, down from 8.812 mills in 2019.

Commissioners have until Dec. 31 to pass next year's budget. Two public hearings on the budget are required by law before commissioners can approve the spending package.

The first budget public hearing went against the spirit of the law, since commissioners didn't truly present a budget. Commissioners must have another public hearing the week of Dec. 21 before approving the 2021 budget to give Whitfield County residents the opportunity to dig into the budget and ask questions about the commissioners' spending plans.

We hope commissioners agree.

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