Valdosta Daily Times

November 15, 2013

County discusses budget woes

Sheriff’s department, coroner are ‘worst offenders’

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Lowndes County Chairman Bill Slaughter was kind enough to invite the commission and the media onto his property Thursday to review the County’s current fiscal year expenditures, SPLOST VII allocations, and the commission’s short and long term goals.

The fiscal year began on July 1, 2013, and the first quarter expenditures have been reported. As of Nov. 7, 2013, the county’s expenditures should be around 25 percent of the allocated budget for the year but instead are as follows: General Government – 34.51 percent; Judicial – 36.31 percent; Public Safety – 38.49 percent; Public Works – 34.17 percent; Health and Welfare – 35.81 percent; Cultural & Recreation – 9.70 percent; Housing and Development – 0.50 percent.

“As a commission, we need to plan better,” County Manager Joe Pritchard said.

Some of the county’s departments are worse than others, particularly the Sheriff’s department.

Administration for the Sheriff Department overall is at 35.78 percent, with professional services which includes Attorney fees and auditors, is at 138.63 percent of its allocated budget, spending a total of $13,863.

Slaughter said, “This line item is over because of the

current, ongoing case,” referring to the Kendrick Johnson case.

Other line items that are more than expected for the Sheriff’s Administration Department are: Other equipment Repair/Maintenance, at 90.10 percent; “rent/lease,” at 87.73 percent; Small Tools and Equipment, at 66.57 percent; and Subscriptions, at 62.62 percent.

The Sheriff’s Enforcement budget is worse, with the line items that exceed expectations including: Program Supplies, at 101.42 percent; DARE Supplies, at 99.28 percent; Education & Training Seminar, at 92.75 percent; Other Equipment Repair/Maintenance, at 89.62 percent, responsible for any additions such as new light bars, which should not be confused with the Vehicle Repair/Maintenance line item, allocating funds for anything from oil changes to blown engines, which is at 55.30 percent of the budget.

As a whole, the Sheriff’s Enforcement budget is at 36.75 percent of its allocated annual budget, so Commissioners may be forced to shift funds around if there is a shortfall.

The final department looked at for the Sheriff’s office was the jail, which has spent 40.89 percent of its annual budget.

“One of the worst offenders is the Coroner; he is over everywhere,” Pritchard said. The line item Education & Training – Travel, is at 102.05 percent, and Education & Training – Seminar, is at 72 percent of its budget.

As a whole, the coroner is at 53.31 percent of his annual budget.

After Pritchard reviewed the first quarter expenditures, Finance Director Stephanie Black, gave the commissioners an overview of the budget process.

Black informed the commission that each department receives a budget packet in late November containing budget worksheets, goals, objectives, and performance measures worksheet. In early Dec. a budget calender is presented to the commission. In March-May, the county manager and finance director reviews the budgets. In June, they have work sessions with the commissioners, and any changes the board wants to make will be advertised.

After they reviewed the budget and the budget processes, the County Commissioners, discussed SPLOST VII expenditures.

SPLOST VI came in under budget, $180 million was allocated for SPLOST VI, but only $150 million was collected; SPLOST VII was adjusted to $150 million. Lowndes County will receive $62,415,000.

The County allocated $25,000,000 of SPLOST VII funds for Engineering. This includes, “Acquisition of right-of-way for, construction of, improvements to, and maintenance of road, street, and bridge facilities.”

Commissioner John Page expressed interest in reprioritizing the list of roads. “I want us to visit this in detail to see if we need to rearrange this list. Why pave a dead end street with a few houses when we could pave a high traffic road?” Page rhetorically asked.

Slaughter explained, “This process and priority list has been developed over a number of years. The people on these roads, were recommended by their commissioners, at that time, to get their road paved, and this commitment was made by a previous commissioner, and the citizens did their due diligence.”

Public Works will be getting $1,838,000 from SPLOST VII. This investment is for, “major capital equipment, including vehicles, for construction of, improvements to, and maintenance of road, street, and bridge facilities.”

Pritchard said, “We have not been able to purchase these with general funds for a number of years, so we added it to the SPLOST list.” Slaughter praised the Public Works department for maintaining their equipment so well.

Utilities will receive $17,410,500.00 of SPLOST VII, for, “construction of, improvements to, and major capital equipment for water and sewer facilities.”

Pritchard informed the commission that there is a priority list of improvements that need to be made to the county’s water and wastewater plans. “This is going to at least be a 6 year process, if not longer,” Pritchard said,

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office will receive $1,500,000 for, “major capital equipment for law enforcement purposes, including law enforcement vehicles, and improvements to law enforcement facilities, including evidence storage facilities.”

An evidence storage facility will cost the Sheriff’s Department $600,000. “Right now evidence is being stored in the Sheriff’s office, and the room now is pretty bad, and they want to add a building,” Pritchard said.

The Sheriff’s Department is also planning to spend $900,000 on 22 new fleet vehicles.

With SPLOST VII funds, the Fire Department will receive $3,000,000, for, “major capital equipment for firefighting purposes, including firefighting vehicles, and improvements to firefighting facilities, including training facilities.”

Parks and Recreation will receive $3,500,000., for, “acquisition of property for, construction of, and improvements to parks and recreation facilities, including new soccer facilities ($3,000,000), Naylor Community Center ($250,000), boat ramp on Alapaha River ($50,000), basketball courts at Freedom Park ($50,000), and baseball field foe special needs persons ($150,000).”

The Lowndes County Animal Shelter will receive $800,000, for, “improvements and additions to animal welfare facilities.”

Commissioner Joyce Evans, has, for years, been requesting to improve the civic center, and with SPLOST VII, $150,000.00, will be allocated to, “improvements to civic center facility.”

The Lowndes County Historical Courthouse will receive, $2,000,000.00, for, “improvements to historic courthouse facility.”

The Library will receive $1,582,000 for, “Improvements to and major capital equipment for library facilities.”

The final SPLOST VII expenditure is the Valdosta Regional Airport, and it will receive $150,000, for, “Improvements to airport runway, taxiway and beacon tower facilities.”