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BOC hears proposal to save $929K

COVINGTON - County commissioners were presented with a plan to make up an estimated $929,000 shortfall in property tax revenues Tuesday night.

Additional employee cuts and furloughs were not a part of the proposal. Instead, the county may dip into its energy reserve and contingency funds to save a total of $370,000, according to the plan presented by Administrative Officer John Middleton.

The energy reserve fund, totaling $120,000, was created several years ago when fuel prices spiked as a cushion for the future, Middleton said. The county also has a contingency fund of $250,000 for unexpected expenses.

An additional savings of $100,000 could come from the public works department, but specific expenditures that could be cut there weren't stated.

"This will be determined over the course of the year," Middleton said Wednesday, adding that Chairman Kathy Morgan and the county roads superintendent have committed to slashing that budget by $100,000.

Miscellaneous expenses of $107,000 were also listed.

"There are several areas currently under review for potential savings, such as purchased services and general supplies," Middleton said.

An $80,000 Community Service Block Grant to offset the county's appropriation to Senior Services and a $45,000 reimbursement from the city of Covington for the inmate work program was not accounted for in the original budget and will be additional revenues for the county.

Other savings could come from settlement of tax appeals no longer in dispute, totaling $75,000, as well as additional motor vehicle ad valorem tax revenues, for a total of $77,000.

The tax digest does not reflect the value of automobiles that are registered after it is finalized, and the county typically collects more revenue than projected each year, Middleton said. The value of last year's collections was compared to this year's figures to arrive at an estimate of $77,000 in additional revenue.

Also, an expense of $75,000 for engineering work on a new cell at the landfill could be subtracted from the budget because it will be recaptured through special purpose local option sales tax revenues, the funding source for the project, Middleton said.

Additional savings could also be made through attrition and other departmental spending reductions, he said.

Middleton recommended delaying the economic development initiatives commissioners initially sai7d they would fund if money was available during the second half of the fiscal year.

Middleton also proposed giving the board quarterly reports on the financial state of the county. The first would come in October, after property tax collections and sales tax collections for the first few months of the fiscal year are available.

The county will continue operating under the current budget and will wait until the first financial report to determine if additional cuts are needed.

Local option sales tax collections will be part of determining that, Middleton said.

"This demonstrates the variables we could experience over the course of the year. It could come in better, it could come in worse," he said.

County officials were recently notified that a computer error resulted in miscalculation of tax revenues. Fifty accounts that should have been counted as freeport exemptions were instead counted as taxable property. The mistake was made during conversion to a new software system in the Tax Assessors Office.

The county eliminated 16.5 positions - some were part-time - during the last round of budget cuts in June.

In addition to laying off employees, the county required remaining personnel to take 16 unpaid holidays, cut capital projects and departmental expenditures and took other cost-cutting measures to balance the budget.

District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming said he's concerned about the lack of detail in the proposal presented Tuesday night.

"For us to have such a bare bones budget, we were able to come up with some money pretty quickly, and I have some concerns about that," he said.

Fleming said Wednesday that the board needs more information on how the reductions will be made, but added he's willing to wait until October to get revenue figures.

"We were told in April and May that we didn't have any additional fluff. We let 16.5 employees go. If we had that money then, maybe we could have kept some a little longer," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.