Macon-Bibb sees $13.5 million surplus for first time since consolidation

CPA+Miller+Edwards%2C+right%2C+briefs+Macon-Bibb+County+leaders+on+the+Fiscal+2019+audit+that+saw+a+%2413.5+million+dollar+surplus.+

Liz Fabian

CPA Miller Edwards, right, briefs Macon-Bibb County leaders on the Fiscal 2019 audit that saw a $13.5 million dollar surplus.

A year after a budget shortfall threatened to close libraries, Macon-Bibb County boasts $13.5 million in the black for Fiscal Year 2019.

“Now for the first time since consolidation… you have revenue over budget and expenditures coming in under budget,” CPA Miller Edwards told the mayor and commissioners Tuesday. “We needed it after the past few years. We had to build up that fund balance.”

Macon-Bibb County public affairs director Chris Floore explained that in Fiscal Year 2019, which ended June 30, the county budgeted 1 percent under their own projections and took in 3 percent more revenue than expected.

In the summer of 2018, weeks of budget talks and pending cuts to local agencies such as the health department and Macon Transit Authority stirred up a public outcry that led to commissioners approving a 3 mill tax increase.

Increasing the millage rate adjusted property taxes to a level that could support the consolidated government, said Julie Moore, assistant to the county manager for budget and strategic planning.

“We have the property tax back at the level it needed to be,” Moore said.

Tax collections jumped from nearly $135 million in FY 2018 to nearly $151 million in FY 2019 which was the first year the county received sales tax for online purchases, Moore said.

There was no way to accurately calculate in advance how much those online sales would add to the county coffers, she said.

The booming economy almost doubled investment income from nearly $293,000 the year before to more than $553,000, which is nearly eight times more than the county budgeted.

Not filling employee vacancies also helped the county save about $5 million last year.

County departments also spent $1.5 million less than budgeted on supplies, according to the report from the finance department.

“We held expenses. We did our part,” County Manager Keith Moffett said.

The report shows revenues came in at 103 percent of projections and expenses were 5 percent less than budgeted.

Mayor Robert Reichert commended Finance Director Christy Iuliucci and her staff for “several glowing comments” in the clean audit with no findings from Mauldin & Jenkins.

When it comes to funding government pensions, the county overall is 80 percent funded but there are areas of concern.

Because there are retirees from the old city of Macon and Bibb County governments, there are three different plans.

The current county plan is 57 percent funded which Edwards called “a little on the low side.” The Macon fund is at 83 percent and “looking good.” The Fire and Police account is nearly fully funded at 99 percent and “looking awesome,” Edwards said.

The category of Other Post Employment Benefits, or OPEB, which includes health care for retirees, is only 1 percent funded. That gives Edwards “consternation,” he said.

Macon-Bibb County should have $148 million to cover those future costs and only have about $1.1 million on hand.

It’s a plight most local governments are grappling with, Edwards said.

“I have a hard time making a big issue out of it when you’re right there with other governments,” he said.

But Commissioner Mallory Jones pointed out “when 99 percent of you are in the sinking boat, it’s a big deal.”

Wednesday, members of the Health Care and Retirement Benefits Committee were warned about thinking the upward financial trends will continue.

“2019 was a really good year but I need to caution you about 2020 and beyond,” Andrew Harbour, of Graystone Consulting, told the committee. “Our forecast for earnings next year is not very good.”

Although Harbour told the group the past 10 years was the first decade in history that the United States didn’t have a recession, he said it would be difficult to replicate the recent gains the stock market has made.

Morgan Stanley projects earnings are going to be flat and Harbour anticipated the Federal Reserve won’t intervene in an election year.

As Macon-Bibb tries to find money to put in that OPEB reserve, the county also is studying whether it can afford a new pay scale for employees to be more competitive with other local governments that are luring away workers.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]