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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Windfall rumors untrue -- County budget woes remain

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A planned June 25 Fulton County Quorum Court meeting to deal with financial problems was not called -- a sign that the county could meet its June 29 payroll.

Unfortunately, a widely told rumor that the county had "found money" to cover its shortfall has proved not to be true.

"We've looked at everything and made some changes that we think will get us through the next three months," County Judge Charles Willett told The News.

For the past three months, the Quorum Court has been alarmed about declines in the general fund budget. The county began June with just $81,992 in the fund, while it needs about $156,000 to cover its bills. With six months left in the fiscal year, budget problems will just get worse if spending is not brought under control.

At its June 11 meeting, Justices of the Peace spent four hours looking for ways to cut spending or bring in new revenue. They finally agreed to take a two week break to give time for elected officials to look at spending and recommend cuts.

According to Judge Willett, he, Treasurer Donna Hall and Clerk Vickie Bishop have found ways to add $39,800 to the general fund this month -- plus cover the July salaries for four additional employees.

"Our auditors told us we can take a state reimbursement the Assessors Office receives each month, instead of waiting until the end of the year to use it," Willett said.

As a result, $10,000 from the Assessors office was available to be placed in the general fund. Treasurer Donna Hall contributed $24,000 from her Commission fund, and $5,800 was transferred from the Jail Fee Fund to the general fund.

In July, salaries in the Collectors office and Treasurers office will be paid from their automation funds -- state money that is used to meet office needs. Clerk Vickie Bishop has been paying her three employees from her automation fund. From July through September, salaries of the judge and his secretary will be paid out of the road fund.

"If we watch our money carefully, we can get by," said Treasurer Hall.

The county is trying to stretch its money until September, when property tax payments are expected to pick up, as the Oct. 10 deadline approaches. One of the main reasons for the current budget shortfall is the fact fewer people are paying their property taxes early this year.

What about those rumors that the county had discovered $500,000 to $1 million dollars in bank Certificates of Deposit that it didn't realize it had?

"The county has two CDs that were set up by a former treasurer years ago," Hall explained. "The problem is, the way they are set up, we can't just cash them in and put the money in the general fund."

According to Hall, one  CD through FNBC is worth $113,843. Each month, the interest it earns is distributed to all county taxing units.

"I can remember when CD rates were high, we could receive $3,000 to $4,000 a month to help county government," Hall said. "Last month, the FNBC CD earned $69. That doesn't go very far when it is distributed."

The other CD, at Simmons National Bank, has a balance of $174,944. The interest it earns remains in the CD, so it continues to grow. However, the money also could not be allocated to the general fund, since it is considered an asset shared by all taxing units.

"These CDs have always been on our books and are considered county assets, and included in the Fund Balance Sheet," Hall added. "I don't know how this rumor started that we had discovered CDs we didn't know about."

With no magic solution to its budget problem, Quorum Court will be asked to approve the spending changes the Judge, Treasurer and Clerk have recommended when it meets on July 9.

"Spending state fee revenue and automation money now will help us get through this tough period," Hall said. "Spending the money now will mean that the county will start the new fiscal year in January with less money. Our final settlement with the state, in December, will be less than usual."

Adding to the county financial strain is the fact that, in May, the state started taking 17.5 percent of the county's sales tax share. That is the amount voters authorized to set aside each month from existing sales tax revenue to cover payments on the new jail, which the county hopes to have under construction by late summer.

J-P Jim Bicker said he had heard that two CDs had been found which would provide about $300,000 to help the general fund. Bicker said Quorum Court will just have to continue discussions aimed at finding a solution to the budget imbalance.

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