ALBANY, Ga. -- Not that he needed a reminder, but Dougherty County Commissioner Lamar Hudgins gave County Administrator Richard Crowdis one anyway.
"About three years ago, I believe, you were using the word 'dire,'" Hudgins, the chairman of the commission's Finance Committee, said after Crowdis cautiously expressed optimism over the general fund of the county's Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
Crowdis told the Finance Committee at a meeting Wednesday morning that he "feels pretty good" about a FY 2014 general fund that preliminarily comes in at $44,344,607, a 2 percent cut from the $45,265,345 general fund under which the county is currently operating.
"There are other components of the budget, but the general fund is where the rubber meets the road," Crowdis said. "I feel pretty good about our (FY 2014) general fund and the way (the current fiscal year) will end."
Crowdis also confirmed that the county's Finance department projects $742,668 less in expenses than had been estimated for the current budget. If the figure holds through the end of the fiscal year (June 30), that amount will be added to the county's fund balance and bring reserves to an unassigned total of slightly more than $10.4 million. Actual reserves will be a little more than $12 million.
"I was really excited to see that we would be adding money to the fund balance at the end of the fiscal year," Hudgins said. "We went into this budget year with plans to use $1.3 million in reserves to balance the budget. That's a $2 million swing in the right direction."
Crowdis' FY 2014 budget breakdown showed decreases across the board except for Public Safety, which is budgeted for a 2.2 percent increase from $14,217,961 to $14,525,859. But Dougherty Sheriff's Department Col. John Ostrander, the director of the Dougherty Jail, said the Public Safety budget may very well move toward neutral territory before it is approved.
"Our numbers reflect costs at the jail without the (inmate health care) discount Phoebe (Putney Memorial Hospital) has provided the last several years," Ostrander said. "If they offer the same discount this year, you'll see our budget level out."
Budget cuts are projected at 1.7 percent ($9,755,936) for county government -- which includes the library system, Registration and Elections, the tax office and other agencies, 4 percent for the county's judicial system ($10,195,246), 4.1 percent for Public Works ($2,776,939), 6.1 percent for health and social services ($5,535,308), 7.2 percent for agriculture interests ($104,219) and 9.2 percent for other expenditures that include insurance, benefits and contingency ($1,451,100).
The county's FY 2014 expenditures also include cuts in contributions made to three of five outside agencies the county works with: 14.15 percent less ($1,237,585) to the Dougherty County Board of Health/Department of Community Health; 4.8 percent less ($98,335) to the Department of Family and Children Services; and 4.8 percent less ($65,668) to the Albany Area Community Service Board.
Contributions will remain the same for the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission (a state-mandated $52,010) and the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission ($250,000).
That latter funding drew criticism from Finance Committee member John Hayes.
"I want to say that I'm not sold on the EDC," Hayes said.
Hudgins asked, "The amount or the function?"
Hayes replied, "Both, but I'll talk further with you about that."
After the meeting, the District 2 commissioner said he's not pleased with the effort he's seen from the EDC.
"I'm not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, but I'm disappointed in what I've seen from EDC," Hayes said. "For us to be competitive in recruiting new businesses, our folks have got to make sure we get a good return on our investment. I haven't seen that.
"I expect the best effort from (EDC staff) when they're pursuing a potential candidate. I just don't see the effort. I would expect them to be proactive, but it's like they throw the bait out there and if they don't get an immediate bite, they roll up their fishing pole and go home."