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Fulton County Quorum Court changes sales tax allocation

Friday, March 2, 2012

An unexpected motion approved at the Feb. 21 meeting of the Fulton County Quorum Court will lead to an adjustment in the 2012 county budget.

Besides an update on pre-construction work on the new jail, there were no items of business on the court's agenda.

But Justice of the Peace Jack Haney proposed a motion regarding how the county general fund and the road department split sales tax revenue.

"I've been thinking about this for a couple of months," Haney said. "I'd like to place a motion for a 50-50 split of our sales tax money, and see if we can get county general back up to a reasonable situation, to keep from having to get into the road fund at the end of the year."

Haney was referring to the fact that, in the last four months of 2010 and the last three months 2011, Quorum Court had to direct that all road department sales tax money be sent to the county general fund, because it was facing budget deficits as fiscal years drew to a close.

In the past, the road department has received 60 percent of the county's share of sales tax revenue, while 40 percent went into the general fund.

Haney's idea is that changing to a 50-50 split now, to put more revenue into the general fund, may help avoid taking all of the road department's sales tax revenue to avoid a deficit at end of the year.

Justice of the Peace Jim Bicker asked if the motion was just for this year. Haney suggested leaving the 50-50 split open ended, with the understanding it can be adjusted by a council vote later if needed.

One audience member questioned whether Haney was proposing taking sales tax revenue that voters approved using to make payments on the new jail.

Judge Charles Willett explained that, under the vote on jail financing, funds to make payments on the jail will be taken first each month, and the county and cities will split what remains.

Willett was asked if the road department could stand taking a 10 percent cut in sales tax revenue.

"It's going to be tough, when $5 a gallon fuel gets here," Willett replied. "We'll just have to look at it when it (higher fuel prices) gets here.

In the end, Justices of the Peace voted unanimously to switch county sales tax revenue to the 50-50 split between the road department and county general fund, that J-P Haney suggested.

After the meeting, Willett told The News that Quorum Court may not have realized its vote will require amending the budget it recently approved for the new fiscal year.

The vote will mean the road department will receive less projected budget revenue, while county general receives more.

In thinking further about the change, Willett said, if fuel costs continue a sharp rise as expected, the road department's monthly diesel bill may rise by $12,000 a month.

"We have worked to build up the road department fund and it looks like we've got a lot in there ($700,000), but, if we lose a bridge or two or have to replace an engine in a road grader, as well as pay higher fuel prices, money will be used up fast," said Willett.

According to Willett, Quorum Court will have to keep a close eye on how reduced sales tax revenue is going to affect the road department, and further discussion about the new sales tax split may be necessary.

As far as getting work started to build a new jail, the judge reported that a new survey of the construction site property has been completed, and the county has received quit claim deeds and mortgage releases on the property.

"I spoke with Lee and Associates (architects). They are now working on the final design," Willett told J-Ps.

Once design changes are finished, county workers should be cleared to begin "tearing off" portions of the old nursing home building that are not going to be incorporated into the new jail, and preparing the site for construction. The county is using its workers for site preparation to try to save money before construction begins.

The next regular meeting of Fulton County Quorum Court is scheduled for March 12 at 7 p.m.

Meetings are held in the courthouse courtroom and the public is invited to attend.

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