• 77°

Decatur County audit report shows $1 million checking account deficit

Ben Lee of Coastal CPAs presented the Decatur County Board of Commissioners with an audit report for Fiscal Year ending June 2015 Tuesday evening that revealed the county is just over a $1 million deficit in its checking account.

“That’s what you operate by, that’s what you live by and that’s how you manage the resources you collected and the expenditures you spend,” Lee said to the board. “My advice to you is try and work. It may take a few years, but we need to work to get that number to a positive number, and work to getting that number to at least a minimum of six months of a budget year.”

The only way to do that is raise revenues or cut expenditures, Lee added.

In September, the Board of Commissioners voted to raise millage rates throughout the county, a burden Administrator Alan Thomas believes has fallen on residents.

“The citizenry is, in my opinion, carrying the load,” Thomas said. “So what we need to do is lessen that load and do something more creative to overcome that imbalance. And that’s not going to happen soon. It’s going to be a period of time before that is corrected.”

Unfortunately, there is no immediate way for Decatur County to crawl out of the red. Tackling large chunks of the $ 1,028,312 deficit would require another tax increase, an option Thomas said the county has gone as far as it can on.

To make matters more difficult, an enterprise fund was created during mediation between Decatur County and the City of Bainbridge in March 2015 that combined the Industrial Park, the natural gas and water facilities, the Decatur County Landfill and the prison into a single account. Revenues in one operation can be used to pay of debt in others, but none of it contributes to Decatur County’s general fund.

“Those monies can’t be transferred to the general fund, they have to stay in those funds,” Lee said. “That puts all the burden on the general fund.”

Small victories and shaving off pieces when viable is the route Thomas and the rest of Decatur County staff have taken. Moves such as combining the county’s planning department with the City of Bainbridge’s and consolidating health insurance with Bainbridge and Memorial Hospital is a start, but more constructive expense decisions will need to be made to right the ship, Thomas said.

“You can’t operate a government by excessive spending,” Thomas said. “What that’s going to require is all the staff to overcome that. I’m still getting outstanding cooperation from the city. I think that’s working well, and the services we are putting together are working well.”

Lee’s report also concluded that Decatur County spent more than $1.9 million in federal funds in FY 2015, and there were no violations of federal law in how that money was spent.