County under spending freeze

Published 12:03 am Friday, January 27, 2012

NATCHEZ — Since October, Adams County’s government has faced significantly reduced revenues and has been under a non-operational spending freeze. If a purchase isn’t absolutely needed, it isn’t being bought.

“We have asked the departments to limit any spending to emergency spending for this first quarter,” County Administrator Joe Murray said. “If somebody needs paper for the copier, we are not about to start scrutinizing whether they need paper, but we are trying to make it where (purchases are only) items that are essential for operation.”

The county’s departments were notified of the spending slowdown two days after the fiscal year began in October. Reasons given at the time included the county’s inability to refinance a $2.4 million bond and the decision not to increase tax millage.

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“Last year the supervisors voted to keep the millage from increasing,” Murray said, “The value of a mil decreased, and the county absorbed that value. Everybody’s budget is very tight this year.”

Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said that, regardless of this year’s hiatus on spending, the first quarter of every year is lean months for the county.

“Between October, November and mid-December we don’t receive any tax collections on land,” O’Beirne said.

“January, February and March will be when we get the bulk of that money. We get 70 percent of the taxes we will get from the tax collector during that time. It is during that time that we catch up on everything.”

One of the first orders of business will be to repay an emergency expenditure loan the county had to take out to meet obligations, Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said.

“We had moved into the new fiscal year and Tommy was short on monies to be able to pay bills,” Grennell said. We had bills that were due and we were short on money.”

The $1.2 million loan was taken out in October, and by statute has to be repaid to the lender — in this case, B&K Bank — by March 15, Murray said.

An emergency expenditure loan requires an unanimous vote.

“The way it works, it not like any surplus money was in that loan,” Grennell said. “You had to itemize what the need was, and that money had to be directly applied to those expenditures. You could not borrow it and use it on anything in the county, it had to be applied to items that were listed. The board saw that there was a need — we had to do it for the county.”

Grennell said that he believes the last few months have been a good time of training for the county departments to find ways to be more efficient with what they have, but that when cash comes in it’s not going to suddenly become a free-for-all spending frenzy.

“My personal opinion is that Joe still needs to be monitoring departments carefully in respect to their spending,” Grennell said. “We don’t want to be short on our end-of-year cash balances. I think it is a good practice that we need to keep in place as long as we can.”

Even if the county keeps spending to a minimum, Grennell said the supervisors will eventually have to address the issue of the tax millage. In the past, the board has absorbed the increases of other agencies before, and other times it has even dropped millage, but absorbing the loss of value for a mil and the increase the Natchez-Adams School District asked for to keep taxes at the same rate was a bad idea, he said.

“I voted for it because I was going to be outvoted anyway, but I told the board basically, ‘This is not right. This is putting the county under stress.’”

The board president said he knows it’s not a popular subject, but the cost of supplies has increased in recent years, the cost living for employees has gone up and the county still has its usual services to fund — roads, bridges, emergency and law enforcement response teams.

“If this county is faced with a catastrophic event such as a tornado, the vast majority of people aren’t concerned about taxes at that point, they are concerned about the emergency, and you have got to have certain things in place — they want trees off roads, they want help in times of crisis,” he said.

“You can’t have a vehicle of a law enforcement officer that will break down on the way trying to save someone’s life.”

For the current fiscal year, however, the county is going to have to make do with what it has.

And that, O’Beirne said, will be key.

“We are not going to spend money foolishly when we get our money in,” he said.

Wednesday Moody’s Investor’s Service upgraded Adams County’s bond rating from non-investment grade to investment grade. Financial Advisor Demery Grubbs said the upgrade was done in part because the county has improved its management of money since it was last rated in 2010.