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LOST revenue lost in Jackson County and Jefferson

Lower tax collections may lead to budget shortfalls

POSTED: December 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Everyone seems to be crunching numbers and adjusting their budgets these days, and local governments are no different.

In Jackson County, officials are already bracing themselves to the likelihood they will not meet estimated revenue from Local Option Sales Tax collections.

"We're estimating that we're going to be approximately $440,000 below our budgeted $6 million," said John Hulsey, Jackson County finance director.

To accommodate the shortfall, the county has already reduced its remaining budget by 5 percent, Hulsey says.

So far, Jackson County has collected $4.4 million in LOST revenue from the state. That's about $300,000 less than what was collected at this point last year, when the county received $4.7 million in LOST revenue.

Not only are the year-to-date collections less than the previous year's, the most recent monthly totals are also down. In September 2007, the county collected $555,088 in LOST funds from the state; this September, it only received $530,739.

Although LOST revenue is generated locally, the Georgia Department of Revenue distributes the funds to local governments. Usually there is a two-month lag between when the LOST funds are generated and when they are distributed by the state. So, for example, the LOST revenue from September was received by local governments in November.

While being mindful of the weeks remaining in 2008, county officials are also preparing to make adjustments to the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on Jan. 1, Hulsey said.

"Next year, we are asking department heads to reduce their operating budgets by 10 percent," Hulsey said. "We haven't had to cut things like (employee) benefits yet, but we are making budget cuts where we can."

The county isn't the only government facing shortfalls in LOST funding, the city of Jefferson's LOST revenue is also down from what it was last year.

Jefferson's year-to-date LOST revenue is around $52,000 behind where it was at this point in 2007. So far, the city has collected a total of $651,000, compared to the $703,000 that was collected by this time last year.

Despite lower LOST collections, city officials say that their overall operations have not been affected.

"Because of difficulties in prior years, we actually budgeted $500,00 in contingencies. We also did a pretty conservative budget, so if collections continue as they have been, we'll only be looking at around a $20,000 shortfall in our budget," said Amie Vaughan, Jefferson's finance director.

"Also, LOST collections only make up 13.68 percent of our general fund revenue, which is a small amount compared to other governments, so overall we're not doing that bad. Our department directors have also done a very good job of spending conservatively and sticking to their budgets."



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