Commission on track with plan

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Nearly a decade ago the Pike County Commission faced budget shortfalls and increasing debt, but after implementing a 10-year plan commissioners can now say the county is in better financial standing.

Pike County Commission Administrative Assistant Harry Sanders said commissioners decided to take action in May 2007, when the general and gas tax funds fell a combined $1.23 million short in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

After long talks, commissioners decided a 10-year plan was needed. They established a goal of reducing the county’s debt by no less than 60 percent come May 2017.

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“There had already been a number of measures taken up to this point to reduce expenditures,” Sanders said. “Every county department had reduced their number of employees, budgets were cut and only essential functions were funded. Any more cuts could drastically reduce the services to the public.”

Commissioners further realized that with no increase in the amount of revenue coming into the county it would hard reduce the growing debt. So they looked at how to redistribute sales tax revenues.

Commissioners decided after $150,000 was allocated to the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and the Pike County Economic Development Committee, the county’s 1-cent sales tax was to be divided amongst the county, the Pike County Board of Education and Troy City School Board of Education.

“The redistribution was the commission’s compromise,” Sanders said. “Since the sales tax was currently going to education, it was necessary to seek an agreement and the support of the boards with the county’s larger municipalities, Troy and Brundidge. The commission, at the time, had already been discussing the plan for several years. The time had become critical.”

Sanders said a consensus was reached, and the commission sought advice and assistance of Troy Bank & Trust to establish an objective to better use the new revenue.

“The county was able to consolidate several capital loans and create a repayment plan to utilize a portion of the new revenues from the redistribution of the sales tax,” Sanders said. “As the county’s bond rating improved, we were able to refinance some of our debt at a lower interest rate and save over $500,000 in interest. As that loan as well as other were paid off, the funds that were dedicated to those payments were used to retire other debt at a faster-than-planned pace.”

Being able to consolidate some of the county’s debt faster than expected, Sanders said the county had been able to reach almost 80 percent of their 10-year goal by Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.

“We have two years remaining on the plan and we are on target,” Sanders said. “We may actually better our target, but I don’t want to brag until it is actually done and there is no doubt.”

Sanders said the commission may be in far better standing now, but there are still many hurdles to jump before the 2017 deadline. Sanders said the commission annually reviews the 10-year plan as part of the budgeting process and makes any updates or changes to insure that the necessary steps have been taken to reach the goal.

“It’s difficult to say no, especially in worthy projects,” Sanders said. “The critical part of this plan is to maintain the focus on debt reduction and not fall to the temptation to make more debt. We are tenaciously searching for ways to reduce our expenditure. The county continues to face serious challenges within our county jail, the Rock Building, our roads and bridges.”

Even after participating in ATRIP, the largest road project in Alabama history, and receiving more than $12 million dedicated to road projects in Pike County, the Pike County Road Department reports that there are still 167 miles of county roadways that need attention. Of those 167 miles, more than half are ineligible for federal highway funds.

“There are also 34 bridges which are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” Sanders said. “Based on the most recent cost data, the estimated total cost for the needed resurfacing and bridge replacements would be approximately $35,370,000.”

If the county were to try to tackle the more than $35 million road problem, Sanders said the commission would need to pay almost $2,3 million annually without accounting for inflation to put Pike County’s paved roads on a 20-year resurfacing cycle.

“In addition to the cost to fix the roads, the road department would need an estimated minimum of $225,000 per year to compensate for the heavy equipment needs an safety improvements such as traffic striping and other upgrades the roads would need at that point.”

Much like the Circuit Clerk’s office, other state agencies are facing layoffs as a solution to budget shortfalls, and Sanders said the state’s cutbacks could have adverse affects on the county.

“If they were to cut state troopers who work crashes with the Sheriff’s Department, we more than likely have to hire two more deputies,” Sanders said. “Troopers would investigate crashes on state and federal highways only, and county municipalities would be the sole investigators of all crashes.”

But, Sanders said the commission has begun to see light at the end of the 10-year tunnel. The county’s ESCO Project was paid for in large, Sanders said, by the guaranteed energy savings after every county building saw much needed energy-saving improvements.

“The county owns and has to look after more than the courthouse,” Sanders said. “There is the Pike County Board of Education, the District Attorney’s Office, The Extension Service, the EMA Office, the Health Department, the Road Department and the County Jail. These buildings needed work done on them, so the commission used the opportunity to save money in the long run by making them more energy efficient maximizing the positive impact.”

The commission still has two years to reach the goal of reducing debt by 60 percent, and Sanders said commissioners are hopeful they will be be successful;.

“The job is never really finished,” Sander said. “The commission must constantly make decisions and set priorities, especially when it comes to the budget. The will of the people is the basis of our democracy and must always be followed. One of the commission’s central duties is to provide for the safety of the citizens of Pike County.”