The Oconee County Board of Commissions last night approved a $36.6 Fiscal Year 2015 budget, agreed upon a $47.3 million spending plan as part the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum to be on the ballot on Nov. 4, and rezoned property for a mini-warehouse and storage facility.
The budget approved was unchanged from the one reviewed by the Board at its meeting on May 27, meaning that Coroner Ed Carson did not get his requested transport van.
|Architectural Sketch of Warehouse|
The SPLOST spending items also were unchanged from those agreed upon on May 27, meaning that the big winners were water and sewer projects and roadways.
The rezone approval means that LCN Oconee LLC and Frank Halpin got the reclassification they wanted so JenHill LLC can go forward with plans to build a 152,250-square-foot facility offering climate-controlled commercial and personal storage space.
The approval of the SPLOST spending plan came without discussion.
The Board actually only was approving an intergovernmental agreement with the four cities in the county.
In doing so, the Board had to indicate how it plans to spend the $47.3 million it expects to get from the 1 percent sales tax if voters approve it in November.
The remainder of the $55 million expected to be collected will go to the four cities.
The BOC will need to pass the call for the SPLOST referendum later in the summer.
Budget Hit Bump
Discussion of the Fiscal Year budget got off to a rough start when Commissioner Jim Luke complained that he had not been adequately informed until last week that the budget included funding for a cost of living adjustment to the benefits of retired county employees.
County Administrative Office Jeff Benko said he had sent materials to the Commissioners before that time that included the funding for retirees.
Luke said the funding had not been discussed in any earlier meetings about the budget.
County Finance Director Wes Geddings said he had included the money for retirees in with the funding for a 3 percent cost of living salary increase for current employees but had not separated out and separately designated the two sums.
Coroner And His Van
During the discussion of the FY 2015 budget on May 27, Commissioner Margaret Hale had asked why funding for a transport van requested by Coroner Ed Carson had not been included in the budget.
Administrative Office Benko was instructed to get cost estimates for such a vehicle and bring them back to the Board for discussion.
Benko told me in a conversation in his office this afternoon that he worked with the Fleet Maintenance Department following the meeting and sent an email to the BOC members during the week indicating that an appropriate van could be purchased for $27,000.
Benko said “there was not a consensus” to add the item in the budget.
None of the Commissioners mentioned the van in the discussions last night.
During the public hearing on the budget, I asked for details on the current status of the Fund Balance, from which the approved budget will draw $777,224 to balance revenue with spending.
The Fund Balance contains the money the county has accumulated over the years as revenues have exceeded spending. The only public document showing that Fund Balance is the county audit, prepared and presented to the public once a year.
Finance Director Geddings said the county audit is complicated and difficult for the public to understand. He said, in the short video clip below, that he is able to understand it because of his education and experience.
Geddings said that the Fund Balance currently contains $9.3 million, that is continues to grow as revenue continues to exceed actual spending, that $250,000 was put into the Fund Balance this past year, and that $4 million of that $9.3 million has been set aside to pay for right of way for Mars Hill Road widening.
The county gets reimbursed by the state for the ROW expenses, though the schedule of payment is under the state’s control.
Rule Of Thumb
Administrative Officer Benko, who previously served as county finance director, said the general rule of thumb is that a county should have a fund balance that is between 20 and 25 percent of its general fund budget.
The General Fund Budget approved last night was $22.6 million, and 25 percent of that is $5.7 million.
The remainder of the $36.6 million budget consists of special revenue funds, SPLOST spending, capital projects and the Enterprise Fund.
The Enterprise Fund, the largest of these additional funds at $7.9 million, supports the Utility Department.
The Utility Department requested and received a 3 percent increase in fees for water and sewer use. No mention was made last night of that increase or of the increase in other fees in the budget.
The rezone request by property owners LCN Oconee and Frank Halpin was complicated by the need for two variances.
The property is in the island of land surrounded by SR 316, SR Loop 10 and the Oconee Connector and will be accessed by a stub of Virgil Langford Road that is only partially paved at present.
Jon Williams of Williams and Associates Land Planners, representing the property owners, did not want to have to build Virgil Langford Road at the standard set by the county and did not want to build the circular cul-de-sac at the end of the roadway as was recommended by the county planning staff.
The back-and-forth discussion and negotiation took nearly an hour and a half.
In the end, the rezone was approved, with the county getting the quality of road surface it requested and a modified, P-shaped cul-de-sac rather than a full circle.
The video of the discussion between Chairman Luke and Finance Director Geddings and others about the cost of living adjustment for retirees is now on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site. The direct link is here.
The video of the full response of Geddings to my question about the Fund Balance account is here.