BOC looks to fee to aid short­fall

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers (BOC) came to a con­sen­sus on bal­anc­ing the 2017 fis­cal year bud­get Thurs­day night.

The BOC will do so by charg­ing a $50 fee for those who use of the county’s con­ve­nience cen­ters through Jan­uary, at which point the cen­ters will close. In the six months of the fis­cal year lead­ing up to the clo­sure of the 11 cen­ters, the hour of op­er­a­tion and num­ber of cen­ters open will de­crease.

The plan will help fund a $2.1 mil­lion short­fall in the bud­get — if all county de­part­ments meet fis­cal year 2016 num­bers — and buy time un­til more in­for­ma­tion can be gar­nered about solid waste. The BOC sub­mit­ted a re­quest for qual­i­fi­ca­tion/pro­pos­als (RFQ/P) in or­der to learn from qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants the best way to run the county’s solid waste stream. Six RFQ/Ps have since come in and the SWA will re­view them soon.

Be­fore those pro­pos­als can be re­viewed though, the bud­get needed to be bal­anced. With around $2 mil­lion be­ing needed to be found to avoid the county tak­ing out a loan,

and around $2 mil­lion be­ing lost by the county’s con­ve­nience cen­ters, solid waste was an area of fo­cus for the county.

“With that be­ing said I’m look­ing at a date of Jan­uary 1 … we’ll be shut­ting down the [con­ve­nience] cen­ters,” said Dis­trict 2 Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims. “If an out­side com­pany, or one of the pro­pos­als had the magic bul­let, had the an­swer, then they would have to bill the cit­i­zens di­rectly, be­cause at that point we can’t do any­thing.”

Sims was re­fer­ring to the fact that the county would not be able to tax the cit­i­zens af­ter it ap­proves the 2017 bud­get with­out rais­ing the mill­age rate — some­thing most all of the com­mis­sion­ers wanted to avoid Tues­day night. With that in mind, the BOC dis­cussed sev­eral op­tions for bal­anc­ing the bud­get, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tions and clos­ing the cen­ters.

The county cur­rently col­lects a mill­age of 12.99 — not in­clud­ing col­lec­tion for the board of ed­u­ca­tion — and briefly heard from County Man­ager Lloyd Kerr about in­creas­ing it to 13.99. That idea was brushed off, and the board cir­cled around uti­liz­ing sav­ings in the solid waste de­part­ments.

To­ward the end of the work ses­sion, Sims put his plan on the ta­ble, lay­ing out the math. He pro­posed re­duc­ing the cur­rent deficit of $1,994,360 by $755,000 by clos­ing the con­ve­nience cen­ters for six months at the end of the fis­cal year. Prior to that, Sims pro­posed sav­ing $129,744 by re­duc­ing hours to bring the deficit down to $1,089,000. From there, he told the board, the rest of the money would be raised by a fee of $50 to an an­tic­i­pated 20,000 users be­tween now and Jan. 1. He also suggested sus­pend­ing all cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures, ex­cept­ing emer­gen­cies, for the first six months of the fis­cal year.

Sims had one con­cern, he said, which was the county’s in­abil­ity to col­lect a fee for the con­ve­nience cen­ters. Last year, the BOC pro­posed a fee for the cen­ters, which was ex­pected to bring in $1 mil­lion of rev­enue. That fee never ma­te­ri­al­ized.

“The only con­cern I have with it is in our abil­ity to col­lect that fee and how we’re go­ing to col­lect that fee,” Sims said. “We fell on our faces last year.”

The BOC didn’t come up with a de­fin­i­tive way to col­lect the fee, but tasked Kerr to gather his ad­min­is­tra­tive staff to find out what the best way would be.

“I think the plan just put out is close to what we need to do frankly,” Dou­glas said af­ter the board learned of Sims plan. “In a nut­shell, I think Com­mis­sioner Sims has about got it.”

The BOC could not be cer­tain on the amount of peo­ple who would par­tic­i­pate in us­ing the con­ve­nience cen­ters for a fee, but ac­knowl­edged that any ad­di­tional curb­side pickup that may oc­cur would lead to in­creased rev­enues in the county land­fill’s tip­ping fee col­lec­tion.

The plan to charge a fee for six months, re­duce the hours and then close the cen­ters in Jan­uary — with in­for­ma­tion from RFQ/Ps com­ing — was agreed to by con­sen­sus, with Dis­trict 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son dis­agree­ing with the plan.

What will hap­pen when the cen­ters close is still be­ing dis­cussed, but the BOC was lean­ing to­ward manda­tory curb side pickup.

The county will hold three public hear­ings — 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July 25 and an­other on Aug. 1 dur­ing the BOC meet­ing— on the pro­posed fis­cal year 2017 bud­get be­fore vot­ing it into the record Aug. 1.

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