Groups ask for additional funding from commission

Published 11:00 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

June is the final month of the fiscal year for Troup County, and the Troup County Board of Commissioners heard requests for budget increases from several groups on Thursday.

Last year, no changes were made to agency funding at the beginning of the budget year and minimal changes were made during the year so the county would have extra funding on hand in case of unexpected costs due to the closure of the Troup County Correctional Institute. Now, with the one year anniversary of that closure approaching, agencies once more stepped forward to request additional county funding.

The district attorney’s office requested $55,000 in additional funding for staff raises in order to help the office retain employees and make better offers to potential employees. The office did not receive pay raises with county employees since it is partially funded by the state and is often considered a state position.

“We want good people obviously that have experience, that can do the job, and right now it is tough to compete with those other metro areas,” said John Herbert Cranford Jr., the district attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit. “I think this circuit is essentially a metro circuit. Interstate 85 makes this very close to Atlanta, and we are therefore competing with the circuits in southwest Atlanta [for attorneys].”

Cranford said that Troup County and Coweta County have roughly the same number of cases, but Troup County has had more serious crimes that would be best handled by experienced attorneys. 

The public defender’s office requested $672,000 to hire an additional attorney and provide pay raises to staff. The public defender’s office is also partially funded by the state and was not included in the county pay study or raises last year.

“Our attorneys are handling 300 cases a piece a year,” said Public Defender Maryellen Simmons. “I’m asking for another attorney — as I did last year — which would reduce our caseload down to 245 per attorney, and the reason is important. If we can be in there seeing clients sooner, longer, all of that, then we are moving cases faster. We want our clients out of the jail.”

Sheriff James Woodruff spoke on both the request from the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office. He said that having enough attorneys in both offices to take cases to court has a direct impact on how many people are in jail at any given time, so funding for those offices will impact the jail budget.

“What we talk about all the time is our jail population,” Woodruff said. “538 is the average.”

The library system requested $46,000 in additional funding to be evenly divided between the LaGrange Memorial Library and the Hogansville Library.

“[My next focus] is going to be the LaGrange Memorial Library,” said Keith Schuermann, the director of the Troup-Harris Regional Library system. “This is a building that has been renovated in ’96, and it is showing a little bit of wear. My focus and attention is going to be on a better library for the community because there is so much development and growth in LaGrange right now, and every great city needs a fantastic local library.”

Schuermann estimated that the LaGrange Memorial Library would require $23,000 from the county to make renovations possible.

He also requested $23,000 for an additional employee at the Hogansville Public Library, so that the library would be able to have three staff members.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper requested that the commission increase by $10,000 to supplement several programs, including the floating classroom program, which provides a learning opportunity every sixth grader in the Troup County School System.

“The Chattahoochee River and West Point Lake are a lot cleaner (than it was 25 years ago), and now the work that we have created for ourselves is to keep it that way,” said Henry Jacobs, middle Chattahoochee outreach director. “Water monitoring and education are the two cornerstones of our work here in Troup County. In our request, we are asking for support of the West Point Lake Floating Classroom and the water watch program — which gives citizens in our community the chance to collect a water sample and to learn about their creeks and waterways in the area — and nutrient monitoring.”

Representatives from Georgia District 4 Public Health also presented at the meeting. However, the agency did not request any additional funding.

The county does expect to see higher employee costs for the 2018-2019 fiscal year due to the pay increase, and health care costs have risen. Both of these factors will be considered in deciding which of the funding requests, if any, will be granted.

“We did have additional cost for healthcare as that continues to climb,” County Manager Tod Tentler said. “Although we are finding a lower rate than most communities, we still are climbing, so we’ve got those that may take a big chunk of our budget. I don’t know where we would be without the savings that we got last year from closing the correctional institute. That has saved us a lot of money, and we have done a lot of things to make up for the discomfort it may have caused in some small areas, but the sheriff’s work detail is doing a great job of managing that while we get cranked up. We are cranked up now and ready to go, and things are going pretty smooth. We will be starting a detail as soon as Judge [Jeannette] Little gets back for community service that can help with cleanup on litter.”

The initial budget proposal will be presented to the Troup County Board of Commissioners on May 8. It should be approved on May 27. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

***This story has been updated to reflect the correct date for the beginning of the new budget cycle.