ALBANY — The Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee got some good news from County Administrator Richard Crowdis Monday morning, but it was tempered by the reality of the county’s ongoing budget concerns.
Crowdis said unaudited figures show a significant increase in fees collected by the county helped offset a half-million-dollar decrease in taxes collected, and a pair of significant one-time contributions to the general fund eliminated the need to utilize most of the $1.9 million budgeted to come from reserves.
The budget overview showed that the county would need to use only $125,000 of its reserves to balance the 2012 budget.
“I hadn’t seen a light at the end of the tunnel in so long, I almost couldn’t believe the figures,” Crowdis said, noting that the county’s reserve fund will maintain a level above $9 million.
The administrator noted, though, that a $600,000 reimbursement from the county’s group health insurance plan and an $800,000 discount offered by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital for inmate medical services made up most of the money that would have come from reserves.
Crowdis told the committee new legislation that increased certain fees had led to a $1.4 million increase in collections over the previous year. He and Finance Director Martha Hendley plan to check first-quarter FY 2013 figures to determine if the trend is continuing.
But Crowdis lamented the fiscal reality that two-thirds of the county’s budget is for employees’ salaries and benefits, and that only a third of the county’s 690 workers are actually under control of the commission. The others fall under the jurisdiction of elected officials, such as the sheriff’s office, which have mandated positions that must be filled.
“This is a tough nut to crack right here,” Crowdis said. “It’s easy to say that we can cut back on personnel, but it’s hard to do.”
Noted Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins: “That is the major difference between city government and county government. We can’t control (budgets and personnel) of constitutional officers.”
Crowdis said the county has few options in cutting costs, mentioning the reduction of its work force, reduction of supplements paid county and state officials, and reduction of benefits, operations and capital equipment as areas where reductions may be made.
“What our citizens need to be aware of,” Crowdis said, “is that if we make a significant reduction in force we will more than likely have to make a reduction in services.”
The county administrator also advised the committee that if it were to consider cutting supplements paid to state and county employees, it would have to reduce Superior Court judges’ supplements before Dec. 31. The county attempted to reduce that supplement last year, but Chief Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette informed commissioners they could not make such a reduction during a term in which the judges had been elected.
The chief judge of the court receives a $29,132.79 county supplement, while the other two Superior Court judges receive $26,974.36 supplements. Crowdis noted that any reduction or addition to the supplement would affect all other judges in the county.
“The other judges’ salaries are set by a percentage of the Superior Court judges’ salaries,” he said. “If you change their supplement, it will impact all the other judges as well.”
Crowdis also suggested the Commission might look at incrementally reducing payments for unused employee sick leave over the next several years, either all the way to 0 or to a 5 percent level.