Published 12:05 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

County looks to cut $150K

The Covington County Commission expected to approve its 2015-16 budget in a special called meeting Wednesday, but Chairman Bill Godwin said commissioners need to cut about $150,000 in expenses first.

Godwin said the county first has to cover a half million in debt service for bonds it recently refinanced from its share of the Airport Authority debt.

In 2006, the cities of Opp and Andalusia and the Covington County Commission entered into an agreement in which they secured bonds for the airport. The bond was structured so that lease payments for the facilities the bonds were used to build would pay off the note.

The three local governments are responsible for payments when lease payments don’t cover the note.

A portion of the bonds were due in August, and the three entities decided to refinance their respective portions of the debts individually.

“There is no insurance we’ll get any lease payments for the airport,” Godwin said. “There is an agreement with Vector, but it has not been signed.”

In addition, he said, it is not yet clear how much state funding for the Emergency Management Agency is being cut. The Alabama legislature only adopted its General Fund budget last week, and that information has not been shared with counties yet, he said. Last year, the state reimbursed up to 50 percent of the local expenses.

At present, he said, the proposed budget does not include cost of living raises, but the county will absorb all of the increase in employee health care.

“We spend close to $1 million per year on health insurance,” he said. “The increase is about $70,000 to $80,000. That’s a 7 percent increase in premiums, and we’re going to pay it.”

In a sense, he said, that’s a pay increase for employees. If the county had approved a pay increase, the additional insurance costs would have had to have been absorbed by employees.

This year, he said, the county also is budgeting retirements.

“We’ve never budgeted for this before, but when people retire, we have to pay their leave time,” he said. “That was more than $100,000 this year.”

And he’s always looking for other ways to tighten the budget.

“For instance, we had foremen taking their vehicles home,” he said. “I figured it up. It was 450 miles a day. At 55 cents a mile, that’s $200 a day, or more than $50,000 a year. We have to find all of the savings we can.”