Money

County industrial authority leaders reviewed the proposed 2020 county water budget Sept. 16, which is down from 2019. But that dip doesn’t reflect cuts. Rather, it’s due to a major project included in this year’s budget that won’t be in the 2020 figures.

The water budget fluctuates significantly from year to year, based on what projects the group is tackling at the time. The 2019 budget was $6.8 million, because it includes a $4.7 million project, running a 12-inch water line 12 miles from Elbert County to the Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant. But next year’s water budget is projected at $2.7 million, since it doesn’t include such a major project.

The 2020 water budget includes $451,504 in loan payments, up from $275,000 this year, but down from the $864,000 in payments in 2018 before the IDA refinanced much of its debt for old water expansion projects.

Meanwhile, the IDA anticipates an increase in water billing revenues from $1.1 million to $1.7 million, while also increasing its water purchase expenses from outside the county from $760,000 to $1.2 million.

The IDA is trying to increase its in-county water production through well purchases and rehabilitation so that it can be less reliant on out-of-county sources. The group reviewed its monthly water report Monday, which showed 5.8 million gallons of water produced in the county in August. But the bulk of its water supply comes from out of the county. The IDA purchased 8.5 million gallons from Elbert County, 2.8 million gallons from Commerce, 572,000 gallons from Franklin County and 55,000 gallons from Royston last month. The Elbert purchases are primarily feeding GRP.

The IDA also anticipates $1.6 million in sales tax revenues if voters renew the one-cent tax for county improvements in November. The group is including sales tax revenue in its 2020 budget, but the group may wait to officially approve next year’s budget until after the November vote, so that anticipated revenues are accurate. A “No” vote on the sales tax by the county would wipe out that line item and send the county and cities into a financial hard place, where they may have to rely on property owners for more revenue.

The industrial authority has two budgets, its water fund and the general IDA budget. Both of these are available for review at the IDA office. The industrial authority general budget expenses are expected to be $678,103, down from $708,968. But revenues are anticipated at $710,600, which would leave the IDA with a $32,497 fund balance heading into 2021.

The IDA is planning a three-percent cost-of-living increase for its employees. And the line item for personnel/executive director is proposed for $74,000 in 2020, up from $65,000 this year. The authority is also allocating $20,000 to help fund the salary of the new Chamber of Commerce director.

The industrial authority anticipates $671,000 in property tax revenues, up $15,000. But revenues from motor vehicle taxes have drastically declined in recent years due to the state’s overhaul of the car tax system. The IDA had $60,000 in car tax revenues in 2017. The authority expects just $7,300 next year.

OTHER BUSINESS

In a separate matter, authority members said GRP operated at 100-percent capacity from Tuesday through Friday last week. IDA director Frank Ginn said the machinery at the plant has been receiving some “tweaks” in recent weeks. GRP is contracting with Georgia Power. It will burn wood chips to generate electricity to sell to Georgia Power. GRP received an extension to early October to be fully functional.

Also Monday, the IDA met in closed session to discuss personnel issues. The group discussed potentially upgrading its billing system, which has been in place since 2010.

The group also agreed to send a letter to Peoples & Quigley, Inc., an engineering firm that has helped with the GRP project, to challenge approximately $40,000 in invoices that authority members say don’t seem appropriate. They are asking the firm to specific exactly why those bills were sent.

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