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Dougherty panel gets a jump on FY 2014 bugeting

ALBANY, Ga. — Taking to heart Chairman Jeff Sinyard’s call to “explore each and every line item” in what’s expected to be a challenging FY 2014 budget, the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee met Friday to start what’s expected to be a yearlong trimming process.

The committee, comprising Chairman Lamar Hudgins and members John Hayes and Ewell Lyle, received an unaudited report on expenditures and revenues from its solid waste landfill and from the county’s special services (or unincorporated) district from County Administrator Richard Crowdis and Finance Director Martha Hendley.

Committee members also discussed annual funding requests with Dougherty County Board of Health officials.

“(Former Committee Chairman) George Brown used to say, ‘If you can’t cut it, I’ll cut it for you,’” Hudgins said. “We (as a committee) serve at the pleasure of our chairman, and while it’s always been our responsibility to craft budgets, today we begin a more expanded role in assisting (Crowdis) with exploring ways to make cuts in the budget.

“We are the keepers of the purse (for Dougherty County).”

Committee members got an overview of Dougherty Board of Health funding sources and services provided from Carol Williams, the financial/operations services manager for Southwest Georgia Health District 8, Unit 2, and from Dougherty County Health Department Manager Vamella Lovett. A report provided by Williams noted that the county is budgeted to contribute $1,441,093 in FY 2013, which began July 1, down slightly from the $1,493,358 in FY 2012.

But the number that grabbed the attention of committee members was the per-capita contribution of the county as compared to other counties in the state. Hudgins said Dougherty’s $15.36 per capita contribution did not compare favorably to Clayton County’s 44 cents or Cherokee County’s 9 cents.

“One of the challenges we have as officers of this corporation that is the county is to explain why to the stockholders,” the committee chairman said. “I look at our per capita cost of $15.36 and Clayton County’s 44 cents or Cherokee County’s 9 cents, and I can’t explain why.”

Crowdis, too, noted the disparity of contributions made by the state’s various counties.

“We may not be the highest in the state, but we’re in the top five,” the county administrator said.

Williams said she could not make a valid comparison unless data from other counties were provided. But she noted that any cuts in funding provided by the county would come on top of expected state cuts of around $300,000.

“The governor has already said that one of the areas he plans to cut in the state budget is public health,” Williams said. “We’ve been cut for years now, and you can only cut so much. We’re down to services now. I want to make that clear: Any cuts made from this point will be cuts in services.”

Lovett offered a summary of the adult health and infectious diseases, child health, women’s health and environmental health programs provided by the local health department.

“We’re sensitive to the fact that when times are bad economically, the demand for (health) services go up,” Lyle said.

Assistant County Administrator Mike McCoy explained that competition from private solid waste disposal companies had cut into the bottom line of landfill operations. Asked by Hayes why tipping fee collections had come in well short ($78,584) of projections, McCoy said privately owned Maple Hill Landfill and a privately run transfer station set up in the county had cut into tonnage.

“We’ve tried to be competitive, but we have set rates,” he said. “The private businesses can negotiate. And because the company that owns the transfer station owns the collection and disposal sites, they’re able to do what they call ‘internalizing’ their costs.”

Added Crowdis: “They can undercut (county prices) just to get the garbage in their landfill.”

Indicating a shortage in collections from landfill gas sales to Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, Crowdis said the figures are due to “slow pay” by the federal government. But he said the landfill is “meeting our requirements with MCLB.”

Hayes asked if a contingency plan was in place if the base fell victim to a BRAC closing, and Crowdis replied, “We negotiated (in the agreement) that contingency. There is a payout we would get.”

Hudgins bemoaned the fact that last fiscal year’s insurance premium taxes allocated by the state came in $213,468 less than projected and that business license fees from the city were $89,370 short of projections.

“Just those two things together are right at a half-mill,” he said.

Crowdis said he’s pleased with the opportunity to start work on the budget with the Finance Committee much earlier than usual.

“I feel that we’ll benefit from this process,” he said. “The process takes so much time, but meeting with select department heads (early in the fiscal year) helps with communications both way.”

Hudgins said that the Finance Committee typically has held quarterly meetings and did not get heavily involved in the budget process until “around May” each fiscal year. The committee now plans to meet every two weeks.