Cleburne County: Deficit spending means projects are getting built, says administrator
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Aug 30, 2013 | 3814 views |  0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cleburne County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins on Oct. 1, is a deficit budget, but the county administrator said Thursday that is a good thing.

County Administrator Steve Swafford said the deficit is a result of bridge projects the county has planned for next year and will be paid for with money the county has set aside this year.

“A deficit budget doesn’t always equate to a bad thing,” Swafford said. “To me it means a lot more work going on.”

The county is predicting a slight increase in revenue up to $6.8 million. However, under the proposed budget it will spend about $7.7 million.

That is slightly more — $37,283 more — than the $7.6 million budget the county is operating under this year. The increase is the product of a 2.5 percent across-the-board raise for county employees and $400,000 set aside for the bridge replacement projects, Swafford said.

The bridge projects are being funded by $5 million in Rural Assistance Match Program and Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program grants. The grants were awarded to replace up to 12 bridges in the county. But the county will have to come up with some money to create plans and do preparatory work for the new bridges.

Swafford said the county set aside a one-time payment from the state Capital Improvement Fund which it received this fiscal year to cover a good portion of that expense. So although the proposed budget shows a deficit, that money is already in the bank and ready to use, he added.

“We have always tried as much as possible to pay as you go,” Swafford said.

When big construction or capital projects come up, that can make the budget look as if the county is spending more than it takes in, he said. But it actually is using money it has already received, Swafford said. The other option would be to go into debt to do large projects like the much-needed bridge work, he added.

The commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposed budget at their next work session on Tuesday. Commissioner Bobby Brooks said he would prefer to wait until the meeting to talk about the budget.

Commissioner Emmett Owen said he had lots of questions. For instance, he asked, if the county already has a deficit, why would it give raises?

But Owen said he thought the budget looked good overall and his questions should be answered in the meeting. Owen didn’t think any major changes should be made to the budget, he said.

“We’ll get it all ironed out,” Owen said.

Commissioner Laura Cobb said she thought the budget was “a little too high.”

“I’m really concerned about the costs,” Cobb said.

However, she added that this is her first time going through the county budget process and she was learning.

“I have a lot of questions,” Cobb said. “This is my first rodeo.”

Attempts to reach Commissioner Benji Langley were unsuccessful.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
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