The revenues that feed the Liberty County Commission operating budget are dwindling, but the problem doesn’t stop there.
Sales of taxable consumer goods within county limits also are down, which has a heavy impact on the special-purpose local-option sales tax budget that enables capital projects to be completed.
County capital-project coordinator Tammy Richey on Feb. 8 presented the commission with downward revisions of estimated monthly revenues — and spending potential — on the remaining months of the county’s fifth SPLOST round.
Collections since beginning
When the 1 percent sales tax was adopted, the area was projected to receive $51.5 million in revenue over five years. The current tax began in 2009 and will expire in 2015. It currently is in months 43 and 44.
From 2009 through 2011, the collected revenue exceeded the projected amounts. In 2009, the county collected $6.24 million compared to $5.4 million projected. In 2010, collections reached $8.56 million compared to the projection of $7.56 million.
In 2011, however, the margin narrowed: $8.69 million was collected, only $500,000 above the projected $8.16 million.
The figure for 2012 — which does not capture collections in December — shows the county lagging more than $1 million behind its $8.82 million projection, with a $7.61 million collection.
Collections also have trended downward.
“As you can see, it’s all over the board. It’s not a creature of habit,” Richey said about the revenues. “Sometimes deployment matters, sometimes it doesn’t. I think in our case, what matters is it’s not just us. You see it nationwide. You see it worldwide now.”
Because the first few years drew in more than projections, the county still is ahead of schedule with $31,101,869 collected compared to a budgeted amount of $29,942,784 at this time.
“Yes, the revenues are down, but overall, you’ll see we had projected to be around $29.9 million around the end of December 2012, and we’re sitting around $31.1 million, so we are holding,” Richey said.
While County Administrator Joey Brown said he is hopeful that the county meets its five-year goal of collection $51.5 million, the county is reducing its projection estimates for the remaining collection months.
Original projections were near $800,000, but Richey presented a graph indicating the anticipated amount per month now is closer to $700,000. That revises the total distribution to $48.8 million.
The news means the board needs to approach new capital projects with caution to avoid over-obligating itself to any projects, Brown said.
“Under law, you’ve got to do these projects, the capital projects. But the amount that you spend — and I hate to say this — on roads, and some of those other things … you’re not locked into amounts,” he said. “For instance, you have to build a library.”
The board has selected the Memorial Drive site adjacent to the current library for construction of a new branch that is slated to receive $5 million, or 9.71 percent of the anticipated revenue. Brown said the project is under contract, and they are working with the $5 million appropriation.
Under the $48.8 million collection scenario, the library allocation could decline to $4,740,000. Currently, there is $3 million in cash available for the library.
The Liberty County Community Complex on the east end currently under construction is slated to receive 6.45 percent, or $3.32 million. Cash available for that project is $738,967.
Brown said the complex also has unforeseen expenses that may eat the project’s contingency related to tapping into water lines because the former well on the site does not provide adequate water pressure to meet fire codes. Other costs include phone service and lighting.
With impending projects, Richey warned the board to proceed with caution and ensure there is adequate cash to see the construction to completion.
The fifth SPLOST also aims to generate $8 million toward bond payments on the Liberty County Justice Center, for which the county was issued a $20,785,000 bond. The debt is projected to be paid off in the next two SPLOST programs — if all scheduled payments are made, the debt will be paid off in 2029 for a total of $20,785 in principal and $10,072,050 in interest.
However, should the tax not be levied by voter referendum in 2014 or should the revenues fall short, Brown said the bond payments will have to come out of the county’s general fund.