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Security fund figure questioned

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On a day when courthouse bomb threats were received statewide, Bedford County Financial Management Committee discussed the amount of money available for courthouse security.

A litigation tax on court cases goes into a fund to improve courthouse security. Committee member J.D. "Bo" Wilson, on Tuesday night, questioned Circuit Court Clerk Thomas Smith about the fund, saying he couldn't understand why there wasn't more in it based on the number of cases Smith's reports are introduced into the local court system.

Smith responded that not every case ends up with court costs being assessed; sometimes, charges are dismissed.

Breakout sought

Wilson asked if there was any way for Smith to provide a report that would break out such dispositions so that the committee could better track what money should be coming into that fund.

Smith said that his office's software, provided by Columbia-based Local Government Corp., doesn't have a good way to generate that type of report.

"There's got to be a way," responded Wilson.

The committee asked Smith to talk to Local Government Corp. about the issue.

In other discussion on Tuesday:

Detention losses

Bedford County Juvenile Detention Center appears to be on track to lose more money than projected, although finance officials say that's probably just the result of some late payments from the state.

The county nearly shut down the detention center in 2011 because of rising costs. The center was kept alive by cutting back some of its costs and more aggressively recruiting juveniles from surrounding cities and counties. The center operates at a loss, but as long as the loss is less than about $250,000 per year, the county is considered to be better off than it would be if it had to close the center and pay for its own juveniles to be transported and housed elsewhere.

During Tuesday night's meeting, County Finance Director Robert Daniel presented the report on the detention center's finances, noting that -- based on a projection from the first four months of the fiscal year -- the center is on track to lose $279,310 during fiscal 2012-13. During the meeting, Daniel and others misspoke and said the $279,000 was better than the target.

After the meeting, when asked about his comments by the Times-Gazette, Daniel agreed that the target was $249,000, meaning the projected $279,000 loss fails to meet it. However, Daniel said the projection he presented may not be accurate because of delays in receiving compensation from the state. He said he feels that the center's finances will still meet the target amount once the state pays what it owes.

Sales taxes

The county's sales tax collections and current year property tax collections are running ahead of the same time last year, but much of that increase is offset by a decrease in prior year property tax collections. Sales tax and current year property tax are each running about $90,000 ahead of the previous year, for a total of $180,000, while prior year property tax collections are running $149,590 less than at this point in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Circuit and chancery court collections are running $3,391 ahead of last year, while mineral severance tax is $14,997 ahead. Highway Superintendent Stanley Smotherman said mineral severance tax proceeds are likely to drop off sharply, however, now that a state bridge project is nearing completion. There are no other active state road projects in construction phase locally, and thus less need for quarried gravel.

Utility costs

Wilson said that the county is spending too much on utilities and needs to look at consolidation to reduce its utility costs.