Commissioner Mark Ferguson threw the County Commission a curve ball earlier this week when he unexpectedly introduced an amended version of a $6 million capital projects spending plan, originally hammered out and recommended to commissioners by the Budget Committee.
Ferguson’s one-page spreadsheet prompted an hourlong debate, and the revised resolution failed by a single vote. So it went back to the Budget Committee, which Friday painstakingly raked over the projects and equipment line by line only to arrive at its original recommendation.
By the way, besides committee members, no other county commissioners sat in on Friday’s arduous process, save Commission Chairman Greg Matherly.
Committee members began the more than three-hour meeting by tussling with the general fund balance, which is projected to be about $1.5 million out of whack. The meeting will fire up again Thursday, just days ahead of a special called County Commission meeting Aug. 5.
“This is where we are today, and it’s hot off the press: if we give all full-time employees a 2 percent raise, we’re facing a $1.5 million shortfall,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said. “I would ask that you take the next few days and look at this.”
Following some serious slicing and dicing over the past few months, the estimated expenditure number for FY 2014 is about $35.1 million. Revenues are projected at $33.8 million, not including grant funds.
Commissioner and committee member Ethan Flynn asked Eldridge if he was “supportive” of the budget.
“I am not,” answered Eldridge. “But I’m at the point of saying I’m comfortable with what Bobbye (Webb, Accounts and Budgets Office director) and I have done. We’ve done all we can do. We have turned over every rock. That’s why the next step will be to see what the departments can do.”
Meanwhile, back to the capital expenditure enduro, a subject committee members have become quite familiar with having generally dealt with the same numbers for months.
The basic question Friday — again — was: Should the county be borrowing the money. Interest rates are at an all-time low, and the county’s fund balance is at an all-time high? It’s like the old saying, “You can only get a loan if you can prove you don’t need one.”
The answer? As far as committee members are concerned — absolutely.
“I would love to hear an explanation why we shouldn’t do this,” Eldridge said. “We’re looking at a cost of about $8,000 a year to finance this.”
“This” includes jail renovations and equipment, courthouse painting, repairs and security improvements, various trucks and vehicle replacement, Jaynes Justice Center improvements, an asphalt plant, bridge replacement and repair, a new GIS system and new solid waste compactors.
Ferguson has recommended pulling money for the courthouse and paying cash for the bulk of the remaining items.
“We’re dealing with a 100-year-old building,” Commissioner and committee member Joe Grandy said about the courthouse.
It’s important to note that the debt that would be issued if commissioners approve the re-introduced resolution which does not obligate the county to spend the entire $6 million. Neither would it obligate the county to spend the specific dollar amounts identified for projects and equipment, and some of this money could wind up back in the capital projects fund for later use.
Also, there are different funding mechanisms, or methods, for various expenditures within the overall $6 million spending plan. For example, debt incurred to pay for roughly $2.8 million for school bus reimbursement, school projects and security improvements and the Knob Creek right-of-way acquisition will be paid for through the county’s debt service fund. The asphalt plant, trucks, equipment and bridge repair will come out of the county’s highway fund.
When and if this money is borrowed, it will go into the capital projects fund. The full commission will then have to vote again to budget money for each of the projects. Also, just because a certain amount is identified for a certain project or specific equipment does not mean the commission’s hands are tied. They have the ability to “change out” items and insert expenditures that were not specified — additional water heaters or computers, for example.
Meanwhile, Director of Schools Ron Dykes informed committee members that the Washington County School’s 2014 budget deficit has been reduced by another million dollars, still leaving the system with a $1.5 million shortfall. The Board of Education already has eliminated 10 instructional positions in grades K-8.