County ends fiscal year with $1.5 million surplus |

County ends fiscal year with $1.5 million surplus

by Christy Chalmers

Administrative belt tightening and an unexpected increase in revenues has resulted in a surplus of almost $1.5 million for Douglas County.

The extra money came from savings during the 1998-99 fiscal year, which ended June 30. County Manager Dan Holler said higher-than-expected revenues accounted for $443,559 of the total $1,481,376 windfall. The rest came from lower-than-budgeted spending by county departments.

The savings resulted in the biggest year-end surplus in several years, dating back to the mid-90s, when county leaders faced a budget deficit that meant cuts totaling several hundred thousand dollars.

“It goes back to those years when we cut things and held the line,” Holler said. “You look at ‘can we do it differently, can we do it less expensively,’ and the answer is ‘yes, we could.'”

The lean years resulted in a policy of deferring spending on capital items like desks and computers until annual budget surpluses – or deficits – are known. The near $1.5 million surplus will “make a big dent in things that we’ve been putting on hold,” said Holler. “We’ve covered a lot of needs.”

He has proposed using the money for a series of one-time and ongoing costs. The county commission is set to consider the requests Thursday.

Holler’s proposal includes spending $560,555 on capital items like office equipment, including a $130,000 cash receipting system and $83,000 for computer systems.

Another $100,000 is slated for the general fund improvement account; $25,000 for the “economic downturn” and $75,000 for unforeseen capital needs, which are used as rainy day funds.

Holler is recommending $100,000 for equipment replacement and setting aside $320,821 within the county construction fund to pay for improvements outlined in the five-year capital improvement plan.

The remaining $300,000 is recommended for a fund that pays for unused vacations and sick days, which can be cashed out. Though Holler doesn’t expect the county to pay $300,000 in any one year, the outstanding leave time totals that amount.

Holler noted that several of the proposed items are one-time projects or infusions, uses ideal for a windfall. He said a more conservative estimate of $700,000 would have been a likely prediction for a surplus because personnel costs can be difficult to estimate.

“You wouldn’t want to count on that (surplus) in any given year,” he said. “Financially, the county has made a financial turnaround. It’s good news.”