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Quorum Court pays jail architect, discusses current budget shortfall

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When we left the Fulton County Quorum Court in June, it had recessed after a four hour meeting. The meeting ended with a special meeting being tentatively scheduled for later in the month, after the court failed to identify budget cuts to deal with a large shortfall in the county general fund.

At the July 9 Quorum Court meeting, budget problems were put on the back burner, as Judge Charles Willett asked Justices of the Peace to approve five appropriations.

JPs appropriated $1,600 to Keen Surveying of Salem, which was hired to prepare a map for architects showing where water lines and other utilities are located at the old nursing home site, where the new jail is to be built.

$9,200 was requested to pay Spirit Architecture for work it has done to prepare drawings and other documents, which detail the layout and specifications of the new jail, and how it will be built.

"We've got to pay him (architect). He's got all the contracts sent to USDA. We're just waiting for everybody to get together and say okay," Judge Willett told court members.

In May, the court approved a $15,000 contract with SouthBuild, a firm which specializes in designing and building small jails. Spirit Architecture is one of the SouthBuild partners.

"Is this in addition to what we have already approved?," Justice Jack Haney asked.

"No, this is his first billing for what he's done," Willett replied. "It's reimburseable cost but, right now, we've got to pay it up front."

"It's nothing extra?" another JP asked.

"So moved," JP David Cunningham said, in an attempt to cut off further discussion.

JP James Bicker asked if the $9,200 was part of the $15,000 approved in May, the total the county will owe SouthBuild, if the jail project, which has been delayed and is facing time deadlines, does not go though.

"This is his part. This is what he's done so far. The USDA, we've sent (plans) back and forth three different times. Hopefully, we'll get it approved this time," Willett said.

Since it is providing a grant and low interest loan, the county needs USDA approval of its jail plan in order to seek the approval of state agencies, and to advertise for bids on the project.

JPs approved the $9,200 payment to Spirit Architecture, which will come from the general fund.

In other business, the court approved taking $79,914.70 from the road fund to pay the contractor for a new bridge on Red Bud Road near Moko. A former low water bridge, destroyed in April 2011 flooding, was recently replaced with a taller concrete bridge, which will allow for a safer river crossing, and better flow of water when the river gets up.

Judge Willett explained FEMA will reimburse the county for the bridge expense. The Red Bud bridge is the last repair to be made after the 2011 flood caused extensive road and bridge damage.

The council also approved the payment of $3,714 to Jonesboro Communication and Smith Two-Way. The companies recently installed repeaters, which are part of a new two-way radio system the county is installing.

911 Coordinator David Keck received approval to spend $66,000 for a required upgrade to the county's 911 system. The money will come from the 911 account, and the county will receive some reimbursement for the upgrade.

The court also approved spending $4,375 from the Sheriff's Search and Rescue fund, to go towards replacing a patrol car which was totalled after a man repeatedly rammed it with a truck. The $4,375 will be added to an insurance check for $10,968.14 to cover the $12,500 cost of the replacement vehicle.

JPs also authorized the Sports Complex Committee to travel to Jacksonville to attend a state Parks and Tourism meeting, at which it will seek a 50-50 grant to help pay for the purchase of bleachers at the sports complex. JPs approved the trip after being assured that the committee will seek public donations to pay for the county's half of the bleachers, if a 50-50 grant is approved.

The meeting ended with Judge Willett asking Clerk Vickie Bishop to explain the steps elected officials had identified to help the county meet its bills in July and August.

"You asked us to meet and try to come up with some ideas on how we think we can get through the next two months," Bishop said. "I gave you a sheet of our findings. The big thing, as you can see, is we'll be using some of the (state) money now, instead of at final settlement, which the auditor said was fine."

Judge Willett specifically mentioned that state funds are now being taken monthly from the Assessors Office, instead of waiting to receive a lump sum for the general fund at the end of the year.

"The one question I have, is this going to carry us to the end of the year?" JP Haney asked.

"I think it will," Bishop replied.

"I do too," Judge Willett added.

"The assumption is that property tax receipts will pick up (in September and October)?" JP Bicker asked, but no one responded.

"On the budget here, did we spend more this month, or did we spend less?" another JP asked.

"We did spend about $20,000 less than we did last month," Bishop replied. "County general spent about $136,000. Last month, I think it was $150,000."

Bishop added that, in early August, the county expected to receive $20,000 for the general fund -- state reimbursement for county funds spent for the June run-off election to decide the Democratic nominee for the First District Congressional Seat.

Regarding county finances, audience member Sherry Keylon asked for an explanation about two CDs the county has, and why they cannot be used to help the county deal with its budget shortfall.

Judge Willett and JP Bicker explained the money is considered an asset that has been set aside to pay county debts should it ever have to settle all of its accounts. According to Bicker, "It's money that you really can't do anything with."

Another court member said, "The paper said we made payroll last month with four additional employees."

The JP was told there are not four additional employees on the payroll. (The July 5 article in question explained four more county employees, two in the Tax Collector's office and two in the Treasurer's office, are being paid through state funds the offices' generate, instead of through the ailing general fund. Clerk Bishop has paid her three employees out of her state funded Automation Fund all year. The judge and his secretary are being paid by the Road Department. In total, nine employees are now being paid from other funds, reducing the pressure on the general fund.)

Another audience member asked for more details on the county's budget situation but, after the Judge said the county has state Assessor's office funds in reserve, the meeting, which lasted 16 minutes, was adjourned.

Treasurer Donna Hall was not able to attend the July 9 meeting, but her July financial report shows the county general fund began the month with a balance of $79,990. The county generally needs about $150,000 a month to meet its financial commitments.

Elected officials are using state funds for salaries and other expenses to make up the shortfall. That means the general fund, which usually gets a boost at the end of the year from a final settlement with the state, will receive less money to start the new fiscal year.

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