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Fiscal picture better for Dougherty

ALBANY -- An audit of the Dougherty County Commission's final Fiscal Year 2011 budget points to a brighter financial picture than expected thanks to increases in sales taxes, higher collections of property taxes and large cuts in expenditures.

Overall, the county finished the fiscal year $1,415,216 in the black with revenues topping out at $63,662,626 and expenditures finishing the year at $62,247,365.

The county's largest fund, its General Fund, saw a massive jump in collections for delinquent property and personal taxes. According to county finance officials, $610,916 was collected in delinquent property taxes -- 198 percent above what was expected.

Delinquent personal property taxes netted more than $265,000 which was 232 percent above projections.

One area that saw a dip were in fines from the court system.

Superior Court fines came in 21 percent below projections with $196,382 in collections, while State Court fines dropped 25 percent with $731,163 in collections.

Magistrate Court met only 25 percent of its budget projections for fines with $18,185 collected.

County Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, who also chairs the Dougherty County Finance Committee, gave partial credit for the county's uptick in revenues to action taken by the General Assembly last year to increase many of the fees that the public has to pay for things like birth certificates and gun permits.

In Probate Court, where many of those items are collected, revenue from fees skyrocketed by 89 percent to $216,236.

Sales tax collections were also a bright spot for the county, which, by all estimation, was a product of the opening of the Walmart SuperCenter in East Albany.

A comparison of FY 2010 sales tax collection numbers and FY 2011 sales tax collections show that in May collections were up 2.8 percent over May 2010.

In June, after the store opened in mid May, collections jumped to 9 percent over June 2010.

In July, those figures continued to climb with more than $597,482 collected -- eclipsing the year's previous high-water mark of $589,000 in February.

Hudgins said that the numbers are encouraging, but that the county would likely maintain its conservative spending habits through the next fiscal year.

"These are really positive numbers, especially in terms of our fund balance and the fact we didn't have to use as much as we predicted," Hudgins said. "But we have to be careful. The lean times are still lean and we have to watch where we spend."