LEESBURG -- Lee County Commission Chairman Ed Duffy frequently refers to fellow Commissioner Bill Williams as "our CPA extraordinaire." It generally gets a laugh.
But now that he's served for a second year as the point man in putting together the county's $21 million-plus budget, it's apparent that there's a great deal of truth in Duffy's words.
"Bill's been the key to our budget process (the last two years)," Duffy said. "I've gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the process just working with him. To be quite candid with you, I don't know if we'd been able to do all we've done with our budget without Bill."
What the county was able to do with the FY 2011 budget during a year of severe financial uncertainty is provide Sheriff Reggie Rachals with additional needed manpower, staff a new EMS/fire station in Smithville and give its employees a 3 percent cost-of-living raise. And that was without raising the millage rate, without laying off employees and without furloughing workers.
"This budget was unusually challenging," Williams, a partner in the Garland, Williams & Associates CPA firm, said. "Revenues from motor vehicle taxes, local-option sales tax and building permits were down, while expenditures continue to rise. However, the Budget Committee (Williams and Duffy) was committed to balancing the budget without raising taxes, cutting any services or furloughing any employees as some other governments have been forced to do."
To get to the final $21,001,212 total that the Committee will present to the public June 8 and that the full County Commission will vote on June 22, Williams and Duffy conducted a line item-by-line item scrutiny of department requests from which they trimmed just more than $3.6 million.
"Bill and I have gotten comfortable as a team working on the Budget Committee," Duffy said. "Certainly he has a very thorough working knowledge of the budget process through his profession, and he's been able to educate me. I have a much better understanding now of what it takes to put together a budget."
It was the Lee County budget that led Williams, whose soft-spoken manner and easy, infectious laugh belie a quiet intensity, to get into local politics. When he examined the proposed Lee budget heading into FY 2006 and within 15 minutes found a $1.6 million error, he started thinking about the possibility of running for the County Commission's Redbone District seat.
"I was aggravated when the Commission announced (in 2005) it was planning to raise property taxes," Williams, a Valdosta State University graduate, said. "I had an idea that the Commission at that time didn't really understand finances. I decided to examine their budget proposal, and after about 15 minutes I found a $1.6 million error.
"It was obvious we needed some people in our government with financial expertise, and that's why I decided to run for office."
The year before he was elected, Williams made another discovery that had an impact on the county's budget. He was key to heading off another proposed tax increase in 2007 by pointing out that some $2.2 million in Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax IV funds could be used to retire utilities debt.
"It became obvious that in addition to getting a good man in office, we were getting someone with valuable financial expertise," Duffy said.
Williams, who grew up in Albany and moved to Lee County in 2000, started work with partner Greg Garland at the Dawson-based Garland, Craft & Arnold CPA firm in 1983 after he earned his accounting degree at VSU. He and Garland left that firm in 1998 and started their business.
Fortunately for Lee County, Williams' area of expertise is government auditing.
"It's about all I do now," he said. "I work with six counties and 10 cities, so it helps (with budget duties) that I have a working knowledge of what is actually a very tedious process. But I love it; I enjoy doing it. We all have the things we do, and this is mine."