FEMA funds may aid county’s finances

Published 11:59 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

Storms that heavily damaged Covington County recently may have been a blessing in disguise for the county government.

County administrator Brenda Petty said Thursday the county is counting on FEMA reimbursements to make its budget balance.

“Would I say I’m counting on FEMA to pull us through? I guess so,” Petty said. “If FEMA doesn’t come in and reimburse us, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”

In revenue and expenditure reports dated April 17, it shows the county’s general fund has collected 65 percent of the $7.3 million budgeted for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and spent 53 percent of its budgeted expenses.

Sixth months into the county’s fiscal year, the majority of the county departments are where they should be in terms of “a halfway point” with expenditures ranging around the 50 percent mark — except the four districts.

Those departments, according to reports from the county office, have spent 70 percent or better of their budgeted expenditures for the year.

But Petty said those figures are not completely accurate, because she is waiting until the county converts to operating under a unit system before making budget amendments.

“I haven’t done any budget amendments,” she said. “We have to get past the point where the equipment is handled. (County engineer) Darren (Capps) said June. We’re going to have to see where we are in June. My plan is to merge the district budgets with the engineer’s budget when we move to the unit system. Until then, the numbers won’t look right until that equipment is sold. I can’t make budget amendments daily.”

The county’s records show that District 1 has spent 70 percent of its allotted $940,000 in expenses.

Contributing factors include costs for overtime, electricity, telephone service, registration fees and debt service on equipment. The district was under budget in road materials and supplies and fuel costs, having spent less than 30 percent of its budgeted costs in those areas.

District 2 shows 76 percent of its $1.01 million expenditure budget gone; District 3 has expended 71 percent of its $1.02 million budget and District 4 has expended 78 percent of its $972,651 budget. Each of the districts exhibited similar spending habits.

The majority of the expense in each of the districts is contributed to debt service on construction equipment, which is why the percentage of expenditures is so high, Petty said.

“Take for example District 1’s numbers,” Petty said. “(The debt service) includes a new backhoe we didn’t budget, so it’s the equipment that throwing the numbers off. So, they’re not that bad, really. Things have been sold, and the budget hasn’t been adjusted to reflect those sales. And again, the numbers won’t look right until June, until all that equipment is sold.”

In a previous interview, Capps said he plans to reduce the equipment fleet by three excavators, three dozers, two motor graders and one dump trucks, as well as a “few” pickup trucks. The sale of the large equipment is expected to save $225,000 immediately on interest and principal payments.

With the FEMA assistance, the county should not only be able to recoup the funds needed to repair damaged sustained in flooding earlier this month, but it should also “come out ahead” in revenues.

“I’ve been here 20 years and I can’t remember where we didn’t come out ahead after a disaster,” Petty said. “Of course, our final number, after the merger (of the districts and the engineer’s office) is going to depend on the equipment sale. If we can get FEMA money to help the revenue side, it’s going to help offset things if we have to sell some of the equipment for less than is owed.

“So, are we counting on FEMA? Yes,” she said. “We’re counting on it to pull us through. And I can say I, like all the commissioners, are committed to making the unit system work. We’re just going to have to wait until June to see where we are.”

With the exception of the four county districts, the remaining county departments are operating within their budgeted levels. Some, like the Probate Judge’s office, the Board of Registrars, the Covington Area Transit System (CATS) and the county engineer’s office, have expended less than 50 percent of their budgets.

Others, like the Sheriff’s Department, Emergency Management Agency, the arena and Pt. A park, are slightly above the 50 percent mark.

Additionally, the public highway and traffic department is on track, having spent 53 percent of its $1.4 million in expenses.