Etowah County officials reporting record high for 2019-20 fiscal year

January 14, 2021 chris
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Chief Financial Officer Kevin Dollar recaps the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget performance report.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Etowah County’s 2019-2020 fiscal year reached record highs, finishing its budget in the black. Chief Financial Officer Kevin Dollar discussed the budget performance report with county commissioners during a recent meeting, noting how the year stood apart from the rest.

“In my 15 years of employment here, we have never ended the general fund that well,” said Dollar. “We’d like to thank the elected officials and the department heads for everything they’ve done the past fiscal year.”

The county’s general fund transferred in a revenue of $22,571,894.84 in comparison to the previous year’s total of over $20 million. Following primarily under-budget expenditures of $20,609,741.12, the county’s excess of revenues over expenditures totaled $1,962,153.72. The over $1 million in remaining funds was dispersed among various departments to assist with offsetting losses, leaving the general fund with $192,188.

Much of the county’s revenue exceeded expectations, earning greater income than budgeted. In addition, expenses in several departments were down.

Ad valorem taxes on real property resulted in $5,770,852.60 of its budgeted $5,900,000, coming in under budget with a difference of a little over $129,000. However, ad valorem taxes on motor vehicles earned $1,049,284.65 to its budgeted $997,625.

County sales tax garnered over $87,000 more than anticipated, totaling $3,437,168.37, while mortgage and deed filing tax accumulated over $64,000 than budgeted at $309,846.85.

Additional county business privilege licenses resulted in $637,629, exceeding the county’s expected goal by over $12,000. ABC license revenues surged, gaining $127,375 in comparison to its budgeted $72,225, due to a state change in reporting.

Dollar noted that two of the biggest boosts in the county’s overall revenue resulted from the financial institution excise tax and the state simplified sellers use tax (SSUT).

Alabama’s excise tax on financial institutions limits the right of states to tax national banking associations, implementing an excise tax measured by income rather than a tax on income.

While the county budgeted $133,325 for the financial institution excise tax revenue, the actual revenue equaled $496,883.61 – an increase of more than $360,000, partially due to a change in the way the state distributes collections.

The SSUT, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue, derives from the Simplified Seller Use Tax Remittance Act, which ‘allows eligible sellers to participate in a program to collect, report and remit a flat eight percent of sellers use tax on all sales made into Alabama,’ and includes online shopping.

Although the SSUT has grown exponentially since its inception, the influx of remote internet buying as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic more than doubled the county’s anticipated budget, earning $1,674,031.11 to its predicted $810,000. Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison emphasized that increased revenue from the SSUT played a major role in the commission securing the Etowah County Board of Education’s relocation to Broad Street.

Several departments came in below their expected expenditure budget. The county commission’s expenditures were $840,961 to its predicted $864,185, while the probate judge’s office finished the year at $952,770.41, $1,920.59 under budget.

The revenue commissioner’s office expended $1,359,759.95 of its anticipated $1,400,776, while industrial development expended $189,577.05 to its budgeted $220,855. The rural transportation department was self-sufficient at $93,000, not requiring any supplementation.

Expenditures exceeded the budget for legal and contingency by over $100,000 due to attorney’s fees related to a prior landfill project that required outside legal counsel.

The sheriff’s office exceeded anticipated expenditures of $6,610,158.56 by $27,277.56. Portions of the surpassing predicted expenditures in the sheriff’s office derived from overtime manpower that serviced the tornados and storms that affected the county on Easter of 2020.

The pandemic affected the jail fund, which surpassed its expenditure budget by over $120,000. Overtime, lack of filled positions and the implementation of necessary COVID-19 precautions contributed to the excess.

“Inmate counts went down because of COVID, which allowed us the things we needed, like extra space for quarantine,” said Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton. “Along with that, the cost came up, because of the requirement of providing (every six days) detainees with masks. We provided them to every inmate – we went above and beyond on those things. Some of those things may be reimbursed over time.”

Several grants affected the budget performance report, including $206,146.69 in CARES Act funds and a $65,000 Petco grant that will assist the animal shelter. The animal control department impressively expended only $283,507.59 to its projected $382,862.

“To be down almost $100,000 and still take on more cost in labor is pretty fantastic,” said Ellison.

Through its prosperity, the county proved successful in aiding additional departments that sought assistance. In addition to authorizing hazard duty pay for law enforcement of approximately $168,000, the commission approved over $109,000 of hazardous duty pay for the engineering department, revenue, commission and probate offices, as well as ensured the district attorney’s office received updated case management software and computers to aid with remote work.

“We try to anticipate what may come in the future,” said Dollar. “I’m very conservative. I’ve always thought, underestimate your revenues and overestimate your expenses and you’ll survive. We’re very thankful, and being where we ended up, we were able to help some offices that requested help. It’s important for us and the commission to let the employees know we appreciate them.”

All commissioners expressed their gratitude for Dollar’s efforts concerning the county’s finances. They regarded the report’s conclusion with positivity and remain hopeful for another prosperous year.

As the former fiscal year closes and a new season begins, the county continues to persevere against all circumstances. The 2019-2020 budget performance report concludes as evidence of the county’s ability to survive and thrive in the most uncertain of times, while dedicated individuals continue to consider and strive to achieve the best for Etowah County.

“Considering what our county has been through since COVID began to have an impact, we are extremely pleased with our current financial position,” said Ellison.  “For the most part, our departments did a fantastic job managing expenses, and revenues were relatively strong in spite of the circumstances.”