Budget Pressures Pickens Voters on SPLOST

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Months into the fiscal year, Pickens County is already experiencing budget challenges.During her financial report at last week’s board of commissioners’ meeting, CFO Faye Harvey pointed out that as of May several areas are slightly over budget. One of these areas is public works, specifically the roads department and maintenance shop.

Harvey explained the total public works budget in $2.3 million and that the departments in this category spent $1.2 million, which she said is 48 percent of the budgeted amount. By comparison other areas and departments have only spent around the 30 percent range, which Harvey says is the appropriate percentage at this time of year and is under budget.

“The public works road department and maintenance shop budget is the one that’s over budget in that category,”

she said,

“And that’s due to some paving that they’ve done this year that was actually (part of) 2012 paving projects that they did.”

By the time the report was complied the county had not received reimbursement from the Department of Transportation for the work. However, Harvey said two weeks ago the county had received a check from the DOT for $228,000 for the projects in question. She went on to say the board would have to pass a budget amendment to correct the revenue and expenditures.

“That should bring it back to where it needs to be,”

she said.

Although soon resolved, the topic highlights challenges the county faces with the cost of road maintenance. In a meeting to discuss the next special option sales tax (SPLOST) referendum last month, Commission Chair Robert Jones said the Department of Transportation informed the county that its road funding will decrease next year and likely in subsequent years.

“We do know that the state is cutting a check for approximately $350,000 and they’ve also informed us as of last week that as the state DOT goes forward that those monies will be decreasing. So, we need to come up with finding a solution to keep up our roads and keep them maintained,”

Jones said in a February meeting. As such, Jones argued that roads must be a priority for the next SPLOST referendum in order to offset the decreases in funding from the state.

During a meeting last month to discuss potential SPLOST projects to be placed on the referendum next year, Jones said the county can only maintain roads two ways, SPLOST or raising property taxes, placing the burden on tax payers. Gilmer County Commission Chair JC Sanford gave a similar ultimatum during a SPLOST meeting in May. Jasper Mayor John Weaver warned, though, that in order to win the hearts of voters to pass the referendum the projects need to be presented in specific terms.

“Not everyone’s excited about passing a new SPLOST,”

he said, alluding to the anti-tax atmosphere abound these days. Jones said the current SPLOST is expected to finish between 24 and $25 million, but was projected to bring in 30 to $33 million. The projection of a five year SPLOST is 22 to $24 million and a six year, 24 to $26 million.

The other area that is over budget is Housing and Development at 42.4 percent, which Harvey said is due to the fees for software in the planning and zoning department that were unexpected and unbudgeted, in addition to on-going legal fees, based on her conversation with the director of that department. She said the county will have to keep an eye on the department and said there may be a budget amendment in the future.

The total budgeted amount in the general fund is $20,275,000, while expenditures as of May are $7,665,000.

“Overall,”

Harvey said,

“It looks very good at 37.8 percent.”

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