Couch: There will be no county tax increase this year, probably none in the next 2, after ARPA

With a few exceptions, Bulloch County government revenues and expenditures have remained on track despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new multi-million dollar infusion of federal cash is expected from the American Rescue Plan Act. of 2021.

Therefore, Bulloch County Administrator Tom Couch says there will definitely be no county tax increase this calendar year and expresses “moderate to high confidence” for none in 2022 or 2023 either.

“Definitely not this year,” he reiterated in an email Thursday. “I don’t foresee it in 2022 or 2023, but you never know what is coming. We could have a state or federal mandate without funds. There could be lawsuits from county constitutional officials … citizen service demands … other unexpected events. “

“Constitutional officials” are independently elected county department heads, such as the sheriff, the tax commissioner, and court officials. Examples of possible additional demands from your departments would be the urgent need for a new jail cell and more jailers or more judges to handle the court case load.

A “citizen service demand” – increased maintenance of dirt roads – has been discussed almost every time the Bulloch County Board of County Commissioners meets in recent months.

But some kind of promise of “no new taxes” for at least this year was something new that board chairman Roy Thompson got from Couch at Tuesday morning’s regular meeting.

Budget on track

This followed Deputy County Director Andy Welch’s presentation of an update on the county’s income and expenses through this time of year.

With fiscal year 2021 ending June 30 now two-thirds, or 66.7%, complete, 96.8% of the county’s budgeted general fund revenue has already been raised. The original projected total was just over $ 40.5 million and nearly $ 39.1 million has been received.

But property taxes are due in December of each year, anyway, and some other sources of funding just came earlier in the budget year.

County officials also projected revenue conservatively and budgeted accordingly, because the COVID-19 pandemic was already unfolding when the current fiscal year budget was developed in spring 2020, Welch noted.

The county then received $ 2.3 million in federal money under the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security package, the CARES Act of 2020, after the county justified what it received based on security expenditures. public, the general’s public safety category The fund was already at 95.2% of projected revenue for February 28.

The county also received reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for past hurricane cleanup expenses. So, after $ 809,305 in total revenue was originally budgeted in the general fund for public works, actual revenue reached $ 1.47 million, or 182.8% of the total projected for the full year, as of April 28. February, as seen in Welch’s tables.

Recreation is the only major category of the county’s budget that has earned less than two-thirds of projected general fund revenue. After Splash in the Boro Water Park failed to open in 2020 and other Statesboro-Bulloch County park and recreation programs were down due to the pandemic, recreation income as of February 28 was $ 736,354, or 44 % of the $ 1,672,580 projected. .

“Some of their scheduling is still below expectations due to COVID, and then some of that (revenue) will come from their spring sports, so we anticipate something to come,” Welch said.

At the two-thirds point in the fiscal year, recreation spending is also behind, at 52.3% of the annual budget, but still amounted to $ 2.93 million as of February 28. The county had to make a scheduled debt payment for the Splash facility from other sources, Couch said.

Elections and deaths

Two relatively small county departments have spent more than budgeted for relevant reasons for 2020-2021.

After a generally full election season, capped by Georgia’s only Jan.5 U.S. Senate runoff, expenses for the Bulloch County Registrar and Elections office totaled $ 370,596 as of Feb.28, or a 95% more than the agency’s full annual budget of $ 189,877.

Meanwhile, the coroner’s office spending, $ 112,237, has exceeded its budget by 61%, attributed to additional cases.

But with 66.7% last fiscal year, general fund spending by the county government as a whole stands at $ 25.8 million, or just 62% of the $ 41.6 million budgeted.

Couch asked Welch if, if the CARES funds were withdrawn and the money that the county had to pay for the Splash loan was returned to the general fund, the income and expenses would be close to what was originally budgeted. Welch said “Yes” and Couch praised the county budget team for their work.

“I think we made some pretty good guesses about how COVID would affect us here,” he said.

But a projected sharp decline in sales tax revenue from local special-purpose options, which goes into a separate fund for specific projects, never happened, he said.

‘Simple question

Thompson said everyone would want to know the answer to a “simple” question he had for Couch.

“Do you anticipate, in the next year, some kind of tax increase?” asked the president.

“No” was Couch’s short answer, and Thompson said it was the one he was looking for.

Couch then added that “unless something really peculiar happens,” the county should be in good financial shape for at least two to three years.

After mentioning the federal stimulus money, he said the county intends to use it conservatively and await guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Big ARPA dollars

In a follow-up interview, Couch said that the Bulloch County government could receive up to $ 15.5 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. This was based on estimates from the Congressional Research Service prior to the final passage of the law. The money to states and counties is supposed to arrive in two installments, the first within 60 days now and the second a year later, and local governments will have until 2024 to spend what they receive.

Some of the county’s share could go to community outreach programs, Couch said. But whether the county will actually receive that amount and whether it can spend that much in the allowed categories depends on information that has not yet been released by the US Treasury.

“I want to wait for guidance from the Treasury,” Couch wrote on Thursday. “In all ARPA, the devil is in the details. We need to master the bill and use money wisely. Hope maybe some unexpected expenses are not covered. This bill is complex. “

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