The Liberty County Development Authority’s board of directors worked Friday through a proposed $7.5 million budget for fiscal-year 2014, but much of the focus was on capital-improvement items not yet budgeted.
Carmen Cole, the authority’s director of finance and administration, presented several items for consideration prior to the budget’s adopting, which likely will come during a June 24 meeting.
When $4,445,297 in revenues and $1,476,789 in operating expenses are factored for the coming year, the authority has a net profit of $2.9 million, according to data from Cole. However, after nearly $4 million to pay off previous loans and bonds, the authority will come to a net loss of $835,348 under the budget proposal.
Brian Smith, the board’s secretary, guided the discussion.
“With some certainty, we feel like what has been provided to you all is a good budget and we can work with it,” he said, adding that some capital items still needed input from the board on Midway road repairs,
isolated wetlands, a road study and water-and-sewer maintenance.
He also said the organization should produce a timely audit, since the board hired an accounting firm to administer its monthly reporting so Cole could focus on day-to-day tasks.
“All of these things are adding up to the authority being better fiscally managed,” Smith said.
Cole said the authority realized $100,000 more revenue from prior years’ property taxes than budgeted and $363,000 in revenue from timber harvesting that was not projected, which accounts for some of the increases in revenue.
Timber harvesting could raise more unbudgeted stream next fiscal year, Cole said. The authority harvested trees in early 2012 yielding $1.4 million toward the end of FY 12, and the $363,000 additional revenue came in FY 13.
Because only Tradeport East and West business centers were harvested, Cole said the authority has more harvest opportunities at Midway Industrial Park and on Airport Road tracts. The board asked for more estimates for more harvesting.
The board budgets an annual project reserve of $750,000 and a $300,000 operating reserve, line items to be used for unforeseen expenses.
Among those maintenance items are jurisdictional wetlands inside Tradeport East, for which the LCDA’s usage permits will expire later this year, unless the land is modified so it no longer meets wetlands requirements.
P.C. Simonton & Associates engineer Marcus Sack provided three cost-estimates for various preservation projects.
The least-expensive option included basic work for all four wetlands at a projected $300,000. Under this plan, however, future development would require a fair amount of money and labor, Cole said.
The second option called for intensive work to one plot with basic work to three others, at a projected cost of $416,000. The third option was full work on two plots and basic on two at an estimate $469,000.
The board weighed the options in a lengthy discussion, with LCDA CEO Ron Tolley expressing that having sites ready for industrial tenants is a worthwhile investment. Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas agreed and said that once the tracts revert back to wetlands, it would be a lengthy process for a prospect to build.
The board instructed Cole to solicit bids for the work with several options so they can make decisions based on cost once real numbers came in.
The group also agreed to establish a capital improvements fund for the water-and-sewer system, which Cole said will require maintenance in the short term that has not been planned for since its construction. Beginning this year, they will earmark $50,000 for water/sewer maintenance and operations, as well as $15,000 for repair.
After discussion, the board agreed not to fund a Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization freight and logistics study. HAMPO planning director Rachel Hatcher asked LCDA to participate as a funding and advisory-board partner, which would require two consecutive annual $18,000 payments toward the $108,006 study.
Members discussed the merits of such a study but ultimately expressed concerns that the authority would not benefit.
Thomas said the study would be valuable as the Savannah Harbor expansion nears and more industries locate in Coastal Georgia, but board member Robert Stokes said he’s concerned about the cost and would prefer the entity to partner with an organization like Georgia Southern University.
“We don’t need to over-think this,” Smith said. “We know where our parks are, we know how they’re currently connected. Unless you’re going to build a new road to access them, that’s how you get to them.”
“We know what our infrastructure is, and we don’t have any new projects — major thoroughfares — on the board for the next 10 years,” board member state Rep. Al Williams said, adding that the failure of TSPLOST put the brakes on regional transit developments.