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Local leaders give ‘state of the county’

Published 7:18pm Thursday, December 5, 2013

Leaders from all over Pike County met on Thursday morning to discuss the financial state of the county during the Pike County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.

Commissioner Robin Sullivan represented the Pike County Commission, Mayor Jimmy Ramage represented the City of Brundidge, Mayor Jack Waller represented the City of Goshen and Mayor Jason Reeves represented the City of Troy.

Sullivan spoke of the financial progress the county has made over the past decade. “In 2004, the commission was $8 million in debt,” Sullivan said. “All of our accounts had negative balances. I am pleased to say that now our general fund now has a surplus of over $1 million. Our goal at the commission is to always be good stewards of your tax dollars”

The county’s financial turnaround would not have been possible without cooperation from all the local governments in Pike County. “Everyone worked together to make this turnaround happen,” Sullivan said. “The six commissioners, the local city governments and the two school boards all pitched in to help. We were able to allocate a quarter percent of an existing tax to help the commission balance the budget. Before 2009, the state would audit our finances and tell us what we were doing wrong. Since 2009, there have been no findings on our audit.”

Though the county has turned its financial situation around, Sullivan said the commission still struggles to fund projects in the county. “Our biggest funding problem right now is with the Road Department,” Sullivan said. “We have over 400 miles of paved roads in Pike County and over 300 miles of unpaved roads. We were able to bring in over $15 million in grant money through the ATRIP project to help repair some roads, and the City of Troy helped us to fix our major collectors. The ATRIP money doesn’t fix local roads though.”

Sullivan said there is a common misconception about how the county raises money for the road department. “Some people think when the price of gas goes up that we receive more revenue,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t work that way. Our revenue has been the same since 1992. When the price of gas goes up, we actually lose revenue.”

Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage said his city has had a strong financial year. “In Brundidge, we have a population of 2,070 people, and we have a budget of $10 million,” Ramage said. “We won our own electricity, water and waste water. Owning all of these utilities has contributed to Brundidge’s economic strength. We are blessed to have three large industries that use our utility season. That allows us to do a lot of things we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. Our sales tax is up $30,000 from last year, and Family Dollar will be breaking ground on a new building on Main St.”

Ramage said Brundidge’s economic strength has allowed the city to expand its services. “We were able to use some of our assets to partner with the school board to expand out Recreation Department,” Ramage said. “We had a significant increase in the amount of kids who participated in our youth sports this year. In the long run, we thing the expanded Recreation Department will be a real blessing. We used a Community Development Block Grant to repair our water lines and deal with dilapidated houses. We have grants to build sidewalks on S. A. Graham Blvd. and Galloway Road.”

Like Sullivan, Ramage said Brundidge would not be in its current financial position without the cooperation of the whole county. “Pike County is unique,” Ramage said. “A lot of counties have meetings like this, but, after the meeting is over, they don’t work together. We work together in Pike County. We realize that, if a project comes to Pike County, we will all benefit.”

Goshen Mayor Jack Waller said Goshen had also had a strong financial year. “Goshen is a small town, so we have to work with everybody,” Waller said. “We had a good year. Our revenue was up 2.5 percent from last year. We took in a total of $161,000 and spent $7,000 less than last year.”

The city used grants to expand its services. “We received a $240,000 grant to repair our water tank and to establish a secondary water system,” Waller said. “As a small town, we have to apply for grants to help supplement our revenue. We applied for the grant last year and didn’t get it, but we were able to get it this year. We can now connect to Pike County’s water if we need to.”

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves said Troy’s financial strength has come from years of financial stability. “We have had a good year in Troy, and that is because Troy has had a strong financial foundation over many years,” Reeves said. “If you look at the pictures on the wall in City Hall, you can see the stability of our government. It is unheard of to have a supermajority of a town’s elected officials serve more than four terms.”

Reeves highlighted the 311 system that the city implemented in August as being beneficial to the city’s future. “We put the 311 system in on August 1 because we wanted to know how we could better serve our citizens from a customer service perspective,” Reeves said. “We have had 1,276 service orders since August. With the system, we have been able to track how often certain orders are placed and how long it takes us to respond to those orders. As we go forward, it is very critical for us to see how we are effectively serving the public.”

Reeves said Troy has seen an increase in revenue over the past year. “We had a $60 million budget this year, and we saw our fund balance increase to $3,489,778,” Reeves said. “We have been able to spend money on public safety. We were able to buy new firetrucks and hire more police officers.”

Reeves said he wants to improve the efficiency of the government over the remainder of his term as mayor. “When I started as mayor, I was given advice to focus on the first hundred days,” Reeves said. “Now that I’m past that, I want to focus on the last 1000 days of my term. When we have department meetings, I ask the department heads what the strengths of their department are, what challenges their department face and how their department could do better.”

Reeves stressed how important it is for the community to provide the local government with feedback. “I want to ask the citizens the same question,” Reeves said. “How has the government helped you? What problems do you think the government still needs to tackle? How can the government better serve you? We need your input. You can call 311 and let us know what you think, or you can e-mail me your ideas.”

 

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