Board faces tough budget decisions

Published 7:48 pm Friday, April 19, 2019

Thursday’s Troup County Board of Commissioners’ budget work session brought with it an abundance of funding requests from the judicial field. In the hours-long meeting, officials from the State Court and the Coweta Judicial Circuit — of which Troup County is a part — laid out a plethora of reasons why they believed additional funding for the judiciary was necessary. 

In total, the judicial departments requested $554,002 in increased funding, more than half a million dollars. This number does not include the $130,519 that was requested by other, non-judicial organizations. Total, the Board of Commissioners heard requests for more than $684,000 in funding during its Thursday meeting. 

Troup County’s approved budget for this fiscal year assumes $40,403,340 in revenue and the same amount in expenses. More than 80 percent of this revenue is generated through taxes, while the remaining revenue is generated through a host of other mechanisms, including charges for service and fines/forfeitures. In light of that massive number, less than $555,000 for the judicial system may not seem like a huge chunk. However, the county’s budget is meticulously cultivated each year and moving these funds to the judicial sector will inevitably lead to reduced funding in other places. 

Approximately 16 percent of the county’s current budget is dedicated to funding the judicial department, with $6,307,734 budgeted for this expense category. That is the second-largest expense in the city’s budget, behind only public safety, which is scheduled to receive $18,803,599 this year, or approximately 47 percent of the overall budget. 

Those speaking on behalf of the judiciary on Thursday made compelling points for increased funding.

“I genuinely do believe the judicial system as a whole, whether it is my office, the public defender’s office, the solicitor’s office — I believe that Troup County is severely underfunded, and I think if the county were to invest further in the judicial system, I think it would pay dividends,” said District Attorney Herb Cranford during the meeting. “I think it would save money in the long term.”

“We are an essential government function, and it has become very, very hard for us to function,” added State Court Judge Jeanette Little.

Those speaking on behalf of the judiciary made a strong case that the understaffed offices, a direct result of what is seen as a funding shortfall, are leading to long-term repercussions for Troup County, and the understaffed offices are resulting in cases being left unresolved for extended periods of time. 

As the county’s budget has grown in the last four years, the funding level the judicial department has received has grown, but slowly. The department received 13.5 percent of the overall budget in 2015 ($5,528,180), 13.7 percent in 2016 ($5,466,890), 14.7 percent in 2017 ($5,808,412) and 16 percent in 2018 ($6,167,687). 

This relates to a yearly increase of approximately $160,000. Based on the approved FY19 budget, the requests made Thursday would result in a one-year funding increase for the judicial department that would be approximately 3.5 times greater than what has been granted in any of the last four years. 

Those representing the judicial branch made a compelling case for the funding increase, discussing quality of life and long-term benefits for county citizens. However, the decisions are left to those on the board to determine how best to spend the taxpayer money. Maybe the funding increases are the best option for the county, but the decisions are never as easy as simply granting additional funding to all departments that request as much. 

As the Board of Commissioners assesses the requested funding increase, we hope its members will listen intently to the cases being made and work hard to determine how best to divvy out future funding.