Report: County finances bleak

Published 10:10 pm Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lawrence County’s first-ever State Of The County report was released late last week and, while there are some positive notes, the overall state of the county fiscal health is described as “poor.”

Compiled primarily by Commissioner Les Boggs, the report is meant to be a summary of what’s good, what’s bad and how commissioners believe the problems should be addressed.

“Although many government entities are suffering at this current time, our county as a whole needs to change the way it takes care of business,” the report said.

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Declining revenue

According to the report, the amount of money the county collected from both the half-cent sales tax for emergency services and the county’s 1 percent sales tax for the general fund declined in 2008.

The half-cent sales tax revenues dropped by $10,000 while the 1 percent tax decreased by $20,000.

As the county is generating less of its own money, local government funds (monies passed on to the county from the state) declined as well and is projected to be $147,000 less in 2009 than in 2008.

When declines in various fees and reimbursements were considered, the amount of money the county had to operate with dropped by $481,500 last year and county officials don’t think the picture will improve in 2009.

The projected revenue loss for 2009 is $563,710.

The brighter side

While Lawrence County may not be rolling in dough it is also not heavily in debt. Right now the county’s total debt is roughly $3.8 million.

However, the new Union-Rome Sewer expansion will incur a $25 million debt and, though this will not be paid out of the county’s general fund, “all debt will have an impact,” the report stated.


Maybe the county hasn’t borrowed a lot of money but it still owes money to numerous vendors.

The report states there are $492,000 in unpaid bills for goods and services rendered in 2008 that were not paid in the year that just ended. These must be paid in 2009.

“Although the county boasted of $156,000 carryover, the unpaid bills from last year more than tripled that figure,” the report noted.

“There were approximately $500,000 of unpaid bills carried over from 2007 into 2008. It is apparent that the county paid those bills but also traded them for newer unpaid bills.”


Although commissioners cut the salary line item by 15 percent in 2008, the report noted that not all officeholders complied.

The report acknowledged that some officeholders cut staff through attrition and when retiring employees left some had large sick day and vacation payouts. The total salary line item cut was only 2.3 percent, the report stated.

Another 15 percent cut has been ordered for 2009 and Boggs noted that, “officeholders have been strongly encouraged to live within the 15 percent reduction.”


According to the report, 2008 saw increases in supplies, contract services and some miscellaneous expenses while money spent on equipment, contract repairs, travel, advertising and printing, legal counsel, worker’s compensation and health insurance decreased.


At the end of the report, each commissioner listed recommendations for improving the county’s financial picture.

Boggs said, among other things, commissioners need to be more assertive in working with others to recruit new business, helping existing businesses and encouraging local people to create startup businesses, all of which should help the county’s sales tax revenues.

Boggs also cautioned on taking on new exorbitant debts in the future and said the county had to change the way it pays its bills.

“A lack of cash flow and reserves at times have almost crippled the county financially and brought about much embarrassment,” Boggs said in his recommendations.

“An adequate cash reserve must be built. The reserves have dwindled but can be restored. However, this may take up to three months to see a healthy fund. A goal of 6 days for paying bills will be set for the year 2011. Paying bills on time also saves late fees and/or interest fees.”

Other Boggs recommendations: Local officials should talk to state and federal officials about restoring local government funds, officials should check to make sure the county’s fee structure is the highest allowable, the board of elections should collect all possible chargebacks, each officeholder must operate with a minimum staff and the commission should revisit the health insurance issue.

He rated the county’s financial status as a 3 out of 10, with 10 being the best.

Commissioner Jason Stephens recommended hiring a full-time information technology person who would serve all county offices, thus cutting the amount of money the county pays now for individual contracts for each individual office.

Stephens also recommended lobbying state and federal officials to lessen the burden of unfunded mandates, merging the county’s emergency dispatch centers and, like Boggs, revisiting the health insurance issue.

“These are tough times that most people have to tighten their belts,” Stephens said. “Our government offices are no different. Our country, states and counties, are struggling but I am committed to make changes and see us through this difficult time.”

Commissioner Doug Malone recommended developing a 3- to 5-year plan to ensure a balanced budget and an annual carryover of $750,000.

Malone also said the county should request that governors and legislators lower or limit funding imposed by court orders, meet quarterly with officeholders and other interested parties to discuss financial interests and suggestions and find ways to lower the staggering costs of fighting crime.

“We have some high goals to meet and expectations to fill,” Malone said. “Therefore we must all come together as officials and employees to insure we reach those goals.”