CAIRO — The Grady County Board of Commissioners formally adopted a fiscal year 2020 budget Tuesday night.

There are several major differences in this year's $17 million budget compared to FY2019's edition, according to county finance director Holly Murkerson. Most importantly, several new, specific lines have been added to better track spending.

"There's been a lot to go into this budget this year," Murkerson said. "A lot of things needed to be straightened out, a lot of things were included that were not included in the past. I feel good about the budget."

Murkerson, who came on board late last year, said numerous expenses were being "hidden" under different lines in previous budgets. Employee benefits including health insurance, retirement funds and worker's compensation were tucked away together under the general budget, rather than being broken down by item. When she presented the county's preliminary budget several months ago, Murkerson noted that some expenses had been completely left out of employee salaries, including overtime and holiday pay.

With this budget, Murkerson said each individual item now has its own line so that every dollar can be more accurately tracked than in years past.

"I'd rather have more work and do it individually and be able to pull information and tell people exactly where the expenses went, rather than it being all jumbled up together to where you can't answer," she said.

County Administrator Buddy Johnson said previous administrations were likely trying to reduce the amount of budget lines for the purpose of making their jobs simpler — a practice he said is no longer tolerated.

With a budget for next year set in place, Johnson said he no longer has to work off of numbers supplied by previous administrations.

"I'm excited to say we finally have a budget that belongs to us," he said. "We created it, so we're responsible for it."

Johnson commended Murkerson for her efforts in assembling an accurate budget.

"Holly has worked diligently, day and night, well beyond her eight hours a day to get this thing done," he told the county commissioners. "She worked right up to the last minute literally yesterday to where we could finally get this in your hands."

Revenues and expenditures are equally balanced in this year's budget.

The passage of the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) earlier this month helped set the county's millage rate at 17.390 rather than the 20.140 rate that had been on the table earlier this month. With a population of about 25,000, that rate is slightly higher than several other comparable counties, Johnson said, but nothing out of the ordinary.

"The main thing to understand is that while 17.39 isn't a great millage rate, it's not the worst of its kind in the state," Johnson said. That distinction belongs to Ware County, which currently has a rate of 21.693 mills.

Johnson's ultimate goal is to see Grady return to a mill rate similar to Lee County's 14.103 within the next three to four years.

Grady County has numerous characteristics in common with Lee, Johnson noted, including population size, demographics and geography.

For the county to reach that goal, Johnson said he would first like to see a return to a mill rate closer to Berrien County's 16.710 in about a year, then move to around 15 the year after that.

"There's a lot of things we have to do to get there," the county administrator said. "You have to work there in slow steps."

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