Proposed 2014 budget up $7M
by Jessica Loeding
Feb 22, 2014 | 1826 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A property tax increase and improving economic indicators provide the basis for the roughly $7 million increase in Bartow County’s budget for 2014.

Under the proposed budget, the general fund balance comes in at $64,626,500; all funds total $111,966,681. Those balances in the 2013 operating budget were $61,269,900 and $104,962,500, respectively.

Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor on Wednesday will hold the first public hearing on the 2014 budget in the commissioner’s conference room at 10 a.m. An initial public hearing for Feb. 12 was postponed because of inclement weather.

A breakdown of the proposed financials show that all but two of the county’s 33 departments receive a budget increase for 2014. The clerk of superior court’s office declined $7,000 over 2013 from $1,391,300 to $1,384,300. A larger drop was seen in the non-departmental budget line, which decreased $357,300 for 2014 from $7,435,600 to $7,078,300.

“The additional funding is largely coming from the property tax increase implemented in 2013. Some of the smaller revenue sources saw an increase last year, such as intangible taxes, real estate transfer fees and insurance premium taxes, all of which indicate increased economic activity. In addition, title ad valorem tax revenue has been larger than anticipated,” said County Administrator Peter Olson.

The property tax increase means the county will not have to use general fund fund balance — or reserves — to balance the budget.

“About $1 million was used in 2011 and about $4.3 million was used in 2012, bringing the general fund fund balance down to $7 million,” Olson said. “That trend was not sustainable, and therefore we raised the millage rate, which brought in about $4.9 million additional property tax revenue.”

Health care and pension costs comprise almost half of the $3.36 million jump in the general fund. Olson said health care and pension costs were up $1.5 million.

Eliminating furloughs increased costs by $700,000; new vehicle purchases, $250,000; a mid-term election cycle, $215,000; and technology investments, $100,00.

“... The rest is generally the increased cost of doing business — increase in gas costs, maintenance, etc. We are working to reduce both health care and pension cost growth,” Olson said.

Looking at the total of all funds, an increase of slightly more than $7 million from 2013 is proposed for 2014, which includes the $3.36 million general fund increase.

The Highway 293 relocation, which is tied to LakePoint, accounts for $2.7 million of the increase. Olson said $1 million of the relocation costs will be contributed by the Bartow County Development Authority and $4.2 million from the Georgia Department of Transportation as an economic development incentive.

Those funds pass through the budget because the county issued the contract, he said.

“... $1.1 million of the increase is the 2014 [Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax] bond debt sinking fund, and $1 million is an increase in the 2008 SPLOST bond debt sinking fund,” Olson said. “The $86 million in bonds issued in 2007 will be paid off this year, with a $20.8 million payment. That fully retires the 2007 bonds. That payment is $1.1 million larger than the payment made in 2013 to pay off a portion of the 2007 bonds.”

Enterprise funds — the solid waste fund and the water department — declined overall. The solid waste fund increased $137,100, while the water department dropped $1.4 million from $17,036,700 in 2013 to a proposed $15,624,200 in 2014.

“The water department budgeted to spend $3,750,000 of bond revenue in 2013 on capital investment projects tied to GDOT road projects. Only a fraction of that was spent because various GDOT road projects were delayed,” Olson explained. “Most of that money carried forward to 2014. This year, the water department is budgeting to spend about $2,500,000 on water line and sewer line investments, again tied to those same projects, some of which are now moving forward — Highway 20 between I-75 and U.S. 411 is one example.”

An additional $2 million was added to the debt service funds — 2013 tallied $20,155,800, with 2014 expected to total $22,183,250.

“When the voters approved the 2014 SPLOST continuation, they also approved a $30 million bond issue to kick-start the projects. That bond was issued in mid-2013 — with an extremely low average yield of 1.3 percent — and interest payments will be due in 2014, so a new debt service line item was created to account for that debt service,” Olson said, adding that principle will also be accumulated for repayment of the bonds.

Winter weather in both January and February will be factored into the 2014 budget, although the county began adding a $900,000 contingency line item for emergency events after the 1993 snowstorm.

“The first snow event in late January incurred just under $50,000 in overtime, [with] about $30,000 of that being for the fire service, EMS and the sheriff’s department and about $7,000 for the road department, and the rest being spread across other departments that operate in an emergency,” Olson said. “The fire service doubled up with four firefighters per truck instead of their usual two because it is often difficult for a second or third engine to reach the scene of a fire or emergency, and two firefighters can’t go into a burning building without outside support — nor can one go in alone. In addition, the volume of emergency calls increased dramatically due to the way the ice storm caught everyone on the roads. The cost of materials expended — gravel and calcium chloride — was about $30,000.”

Although the cost of this month’s winter weather event has not been determined, Olson said it is expected to be less because motorists were not on the roads and less calcium chloride was needed.

County operations closed for portions of both events. In 2011 the county adopted a policy that allows for no more than three days, or 24 hours, of snow time. Two days — 16 hours — were paid in January and one day, or eight hours, in February. Overtime costs are expected to be only a small factor in payroll expenses.

“In the scheme of the county’s $30,000,000 payroll costs for a year, a $100,000 in overtime is only 1 percent and will not significantly affect the budget,” Olson said. “Most departments come in under their budget in payroll because at any given time a small percentage of budgeted positions are open, for a variety of reasons — the time lag between when someone leaves and is replaced, or the difficulty in finding someone to fill a position.”

The special revenue funds portion, which includes the aforementioned Highway 293 project, was up $2.86 million. The E-911 fund, $2,209,400; county jail fund, $270,000; crime victims assistance fund, $135,000; and hotel-motel tax fund, $660,000, each saw minor increases. The drug abuse training and education fund — $100,000 — and juvenile supervisor fees fund — $20,000 — remained unchanged.

A look at the special revenue funds under constitutional offices other than the county commissioner shows a mixed bag of changes. The law library fund did not change, remaining at $45,000. The inmate welfare fund dropped from $110,000 in 2013 to $73,940 this year. Both the district attorney’s condemnation fund and drug task force line items increase. The first went up $2,000 — $14,000 in 2014 over $12,000 in 2013. The Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force is budgeted $143,120 for 2014, up over the $99,000 allotted in 2013.

In the Jan. 30 sales tax payment, the county received about 7 percent less than previous year. November had been up 2 percent over 2012. Despite the decline, Olson said there are signs of economic improvement.

“... A number of other, smaller revenue sources that relate to economic activity picked up substantially in 2013 versus 2012, things such as building permit fees, development fees, real estate transfer tax, intangible tax, insurance premium tax, financial institution tax — all items that show building, development and real estate sales, and increased banking, financial and insurance activity,” he said. “A variety of retail businesses are opening up in 2014, the most significant of which for sales tax will likely be Academy Sports.

“LakePoint continues to advance and should be at least partially open in 2014. Last year in 2013, industries and businesses such as Shaw, Toyo and many others announced plans for 1,600 new jobs, and there will be more significant announcements soon of additional jobs and investment. Those jobs take time to come on line, but as they do, economic activity will continue to pick up.”

The county administrator also looks for 2014 to continue the trend set in 2013 — coming in under budget.

“The good news is, in 2013, we have come in under budget by about $1.8 million and have added about that much back to the fund balance. The precise number will not be final until our financial audit is complete,” Olson said. “In addition, in the 2014 budget, if typical spending patterns hold, we should be able to add another $1.5 million to the fund balance, bringing the fund balance up towards $10 million. Prudent financial management requires a fund balance of three months operating expenses, and that is our official target.”