County running budget on reserves

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By Nick Nunn staff writer

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) heard from Beth Grimes, certified public accountant with Bates & Carter, concerning the county’s audit for the fiscal year 2013.

Grimes stated that the county’s expenditures exceeded its revenue for the second year in a row – in 2011, the county was able to balance expenditures and revenue – and that a “planned use of fund balance” created a $2,000,000 loss in the general fund. She continued by saying that conservative spending in the years following the economic downturn has allowed Morgan County to “weather the storm” better than other counties, and that, despite the general fund loss, the county still has a “healthy [unreserved] fund balance” of 31 percent.

Grimes said that an unreserved fund balance of 15 to 25 percent is typically recommended. However, she projected that the planned use of $1,300,000 from the general fund in the current fiscal year could bring the unreserved fund balance down to 19.86 percent unless property taxes increase during the next year.

Grimes stated that the county’s property taxes, which make up 38 percent of the city’s revenue, dropped $645,000 from the previous fiscal year, while expenditures only decreased by $235,000.

A loss of $612,000 in the solid waste fund was covered by an $848,000 contribution from the general fund, which created a positive equity balance of $236,000. Grimes stated that, if property taxes to not increase in the coming year, the county will have hard decisions to make regarding the next fiscal year’s county budget.

Morgan County Fire Chief Mark Melvin also gave a presentation to the BOC, saying that, out of 68,900 911 center calls in the past year, around 30,000 of those calls went to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, while approximately 10,000 went to the Madison Police Department.

Melvin pointed out several of the improvements that the 911 center has made in the past year and gave goals for 2014, including completing the installation of the new radio system and implementing Emergency Medical Dispatch protocols.

Calls to the fire department increased more than 200 calls during 2013 to a total of 1595. Melvin said that the response times for both career and volunteer firefighters increased slightly in 2013 but still averaged nine minutes and 41 seconds overall.

A couple of the goals Melvin listed for 2014 were to move into the new fire/E911 station at the Public Safety Complex, to reduce response time, and to improve the volunteer firefighter incentive program.

The BOC also gave a special work of acknowledgment to Roads and Bridges Supervisor Gregg Pennington for his department’s hard work during the severe winter weather last week. Pennington accepted the BOC’s thanks, while admitting that “we were very lucky” in terms of how the weather affected other areas nearby.

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