Sunday, January 24, 2010

County Finances and Project Plans Dominate Oconee County BOC Agenda

LOST and SPLOST Problems

Citizens are scheduled to get a chance on Tuesday night to learn about the financial status of Oconee County, about planned transportation and water and sewer projects through fiscal year 2012, and about specific plans for renovation of the Government Annex using unspent sales tax revenues.

The agenda released on Friday for the Board of Commissioners’ meeting includes a report on the audit by Treadwell, Tamplin and Company for fiscal year 2009, which ended on June 30, and a financial update for the first six months of fiscal year 2010 from County Finance Director Jeff Benko.

Director of Public Works Emil Beshara will provide the plans for transportation improvements and maintenance for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, while Utilities Department Director Chris Thomas will review water and sewer improvements for the current fiscal year as well as for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

The county also will discuss plans for use of some of the nearly $4.3 million in unspent funds from the 2003 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The funds were designated for county facility expansion and renovation, and the county received its last allocation of funds from the state for that tax in November for taxes collected in September.

According to the agenda, the county plans to spend some part of those funds for renovations at the Government Annex building on Greensboro Highway on the south of Watkinsville. The county also has been considering plans for expansion at the courthouse in downtown Watkinsville, though it has not given any indication so far on how much of the $4.3 million it wants to set aside for the courthouse.

Benko also will discuss a schedule for reviewing and shaping the fiscal year 2011 budget, which will go into effect on July 1.

This time last year the four commissioners stated their desire to be involved in shaping as well as approving the budget, and they put that policy into effect in August with passage of a reorganization ordinance for the county. Commission Chairman Melvin Davis strongly opposed the change.

Discussions about spending this year are expected to be even more difficult, as the county will be dealing with decreased property tax revenues and declines in sales tax receipts.

Benko released to me last week data showing that the county received only $427,295 in December for the first month of collections (October) from the SPLOST approved by voters in March of last year. The county had projected that it would average about $555,000 per month in collections across the six years of the tax.

Of the revenue received in December, the county allocated 14.21 percent of the intake to the four cities in the county. Watkinsville got $34,140, Bogart got $17,091, North High Shoals got $7,135 and Bishop got $2,350. The allocations were based on population size of the four cities and were agreed upon before the tax was approved by the voters of the county.

The good news is that the $427,295 is higher than the $363,236 received by the county from the previous SPLOST in December of 2008. The 2009 amount was just less than the $428,879 received in December of 2007.

For the whole of fiscal year 2009, the county took in less in SPLOST revenues than in fiscal year 2008, which was less than the county took in for fiscal year 2007.

In addition to the one-cent-on-a-dollar SPLOST tax, the county also collects a 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax. SPLOST funds go for special projects approved by the voters, such as the courthouse renovation, while LOST taxes go into the county’s general funds.

LOST and SPLOST amounts are not the same because of differences in exemptions for the two taxes, but LOST revenues for the county also were down in fiscal year 2009 compared to fiscal year 2008, which was lower than in fiscal year 2007.

The Tuesday night meeting, officially a agenda-setting session, starts at 7 p.m. at the courthouse. The opportunity for citizen comment is the third item on the agenda.

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