April 17, 2014
During almost every BOC meeting something new is being bought. Since Karen Degges has become County Manager we’ve heard such statements as “Don’t worry about the money” along with convincing the BOC to buy an ambulance without bids and financing every SPLOST purchase instead of using money on hand or waiting until the money is available.
When Comm. Henry recently asked if there was enough SPLOST coming in to handle another recommended vehicle/equipment purchase, Karen Degges answered,”I don’t know.” So instead of checking to see what the SPLOST proceeds were, the BOC voted unanimously to go ahead and approve the purchase.
At the 4/7/14 BOC meeting alone, the following new expenditures were discussed and/or approved:
- Suggested adding 4 full time equivalent positions to Public Works—no estimate of cost given or even asked about by the BOC. No action taken.
- Approved the 30% match of $118,000 for LMIG (local road work by the State). Comm. Henry asked, “Where is $118,000? Do we have it?” Karen Degges said it will come from SPLOST and if there wasn’t enough in SPLOST, from contingency. She said, “We have lots of contingency left–$150,000.”
- Approved a Rescue Pumper Truck purchase of $268,000 to be financed using SPLOST for the payments. Payments will extend past the current SPLOST if financed for 5 years; therefore, they are not really setting the money aside to pay for these SPLOST items. They are just spending money expecting the people to keep voting in SPLOST.
- Approved 4 new Sheriff cars at a cost of approximately $210,000 (this conversation was hard to follow and no exact figures were spoken out loud). Again, this is to come out of SPLOST, and the payments would be through 2019. Karen Degges admitted to the BOC here that the SPLOST must be renewed or the payments would come out of the General Fund. Comm. Pennamon said, “We can’t keep committing SPLOST and then have to dip into the General Fund.” But he immediately made a motion to approve 4 Sheriff cars using SPLOST and to look at financing them.
- At the landfill the county is renting trucks, paying overtime, and pulling public works employees off the roads to work at the landfill according to Karen Degges, but somehow the amount of money this is costing is never talked about. (Hint—expect a tax increase and it will all be blamed on the landfill, not on all the other spending going on as well.)
All that spending took place at one meeting. This type of spending has been going on for months—3 new motor graders purchased—financed; a large piece of equipment for the landfill—financed; a new ambulance—financed; anEMS Ambulance & Box Remount put out for bid; a building addition at Station 3 put out for bid and on and on.
The thing about financing everything is you get to pretend you are staying in budget or only spending SPLOST money. Instead of actually spending what they are bringing in, the BOC is spending much more. Just like the County Manager explained about the Sheriff’s cars—he may only have $210,000 in SPLOST, and the payments won’t be more than that during the next 4 years, but in order to really pay for all the cars, we have to approve another SPLOST. In essence, they can overspend and just pass it on to the next BOC to take care of—or just add it to our property tax bills.
The BOC held a meeting to go over the finances of the county through March 31, 2014 on Monday, April 14th. None of the documents were ready before the meeting—the public couldn’t get a copy beforehand and the BOC didn’t get a copy beforehand. It is mighty hard to go through financial information that you haven’t had a chance to review or even look at before being told all about it by the one that prepared it (the County Manager). No one could possibly know enough to ask questions or even understand it all. The documents appear to have the main point of focus on what was spent last year compared to this year, instead of what is actually happening this year.
These were obtained through Open Records and finally received three days after the meeting. (The County Manager just doesn’t like the public looking at this stuff and being able to ask questions.) Even more interesting is the perception that NO ONE is over budget, everything is fine, and the BOC is spending less than they did last year. How is this possible? Money is being spent at the landfill and everywhere else (such as BOC members spending over $4000 to go to a recent meeting in Savannah) with more being approved at each meeting. The County Manager has suggested buying $50,000-$100,000 more in gravel because there is so much money.
Based on the check registers alone (which do NOT include payroll) here is what has been spent: (You can click on the chart to enlarge it.)
We know for sure that the ambulance was financed for $127,930 and this amount will be repaid to the General Fund by SPLOST, but other than that, how is the BOC spending less this year than last?
Spending and financing and swapping money back and forth between the General Fund and SPLOST are not good signs for the finances of this county. Karen Degges, County Manager, says she can make it work and they won’t overspend. Only the final audit will tell the true story, and that won’t be ready until December 2014. Wonder where the county finances will be then?
You can see video of some of the financing discussions at these links: