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County pumps $2.96 million into fund balance

Members of the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee, from left, John Hayes, Lamar Hudgins and Ewell Lyle, discuss final numbers from the county’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget Monday morning.

Members of the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee, from left, John Hayes, Lamar Hudgins and Ewell Lyle, discuss final numbers from the county’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget Monday morning.

ALBANY, Ga. — Members of the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee got some good financial news Monday morning — an unaudited $3 million budget surplus that will be absorbed into the county’s unassigned fund balance.

The Finance committee learned of the financial windfall during a meeting called to discuss unaudited budgets from the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“We’ve been constantly preaching conservatism, of using only if you need (funding),” County Administrator Richard Crowdis said. “That seems to have paid off.”

The transfer into the fund balance leaves the county with an estimated unassigned fund balance of slightly less than $14 million.

“We were looking at that balance going down a few years ago,” Crowdis said, and Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins interjected, “We were looking at being around $7 million. … There’s no way we’re going to ho-hum this. This is wonderful news.”

According to a report compiled by Finance Director Martha Hendley and presented by Crowdis, the county collected $229,776 more in revenue than it had budgeted and spent a whopping $2,730,402 less than it had anticipated in FY 2013. Significant savings were realized from a number of county departments, among them the jail, Emergency Medical Services, the county’s library system and Public Works.

The jail’s final expenditures came in $564,585 less than budgeted, EMS $284,961 less and the library system $270,157 less.

“You have to look at the library balance as a good sign,” Finance Committee member John Hayes said. Hayes, who also serves on the Library Board of Directors, was instrumental in passing a proposal that will allow one of two closed library branches to reopen in the second half of Fiscal Year 2014. Hendley noted, though, that savings in the library budget also included salary that would have been paid a director.

County Library Director Ashley Moore died Sept. 18 of last year and the Library Board is searching for a replacement.

The county’s revenues for FY 2013 included $530,398 more in general property tax collections than had been anticipated, but that total was offset by a $434,776 shortfall in special-purpose local-option sales tax collections. The county was also “paid back” $895,336 from a loan it had made to the employee health benefit plan.

The financial good news ran throughout the county’s various budgets: $345,946 less in expenditures than budgeted for the county’s Capital Improvements Program; $238,266 added to the special services district’s fund balance, and $3,874,805 added to the county’s Solid Waste fund.

“We had one of those ‘one-time windfalls’ this year with the demolition of the (former) Merck plant,” Crowdis said. “Obviously, we’d much rather have Merck as part of our tax base and all those jobs for our citizens. But the $3.9 million above what we had budgeted for tipping fees are going to come in handy. We have a tremendous expense coming up; we’ve got to build two new cells at the landfill.”

The Solid Waste fund’s estimated unassigned fund balance is now $11,427,162.

Commissioner Ewell Lyle, the third member of the Finance Committee, said he expects the frequent meetings held by the committee leading to passage of the county’s FY 2014 budget to have a positive impact as well.

“To really work with a budget, you have to get it beyond the department level to the program level,” Lyle said. “If we look beyond the individual programs — even beyond the department heads to the employees involved — we’ll be better informed about what we can cut out of the budget.”