Leader Blues

Monday, January 22, 2007

TOP STORY >>Villines: Fiscal crisis overblown

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Despite a round robin of accusations involving Pulaski County’s $5.5 million shortfall of revenues in 2006, compared to projected revenues, the county still took in more than it spent and no cuts in jobs or services will be required, County Judge Buddy Villines said Thursday. The county collected $51.6 million in 2006, and because state law prohibits county governments from budgeting more than 90 percent of projected revenues, the coffers are not overdrawn, according to Ron Quillin, director of administration and former comptroller.

Pulaski County’s 2006 revenues fell $5.5 million short of projections, but still exceeded expenses, Quillin said. The county still had enough money to pay its bills and carryover $2 million to 2007, Villines said. “There will be no reduction in force,” Villines said Thursday. “It’s a tight budget. We knew that going in.” He said the county had guidelines in place to keep departments from overspending.

He said most of the uncollected projected revenue was from property taxes. “We were off $3 million or $4 million, he said. “The mistake was to take the assessor’s anticipated collections.” He said property tax collections usually run at about 92 percent, not 100 percent. Pulaski County/Circuit Clerk Pat O’Brien wrote Villines earlier in the week saying his own departments had bourn more than their shares of cuts over the last two years.

“I want to make it crystal clear that our office will not be offering any cuts to our 2007 budget,” wrote O’Brien, a Jacksonville native. He said the clerk’s office had been a good-faith partner in trying to alleviate budget problems for two years.
“I have personally lost any faith in the statements coming out of the comptroller’s office,” said O’Brien. While interim comptroller Tim Scott has been fired, O’Brien said “the most egregious acts of mismanagement would appear to have occurred while Ron Quillin was the comproller.”

O’Brien said county budget problems hurt not only morale but recruiting and laid much of the blame for financial confusion at Quillin’s feet. Quillan in turn said that at least some of the confusion resulted from the accounting methods used by County Treasurer Deborah Buckner. “I have confidence in (Quillin),” said Villines. “He has a real challenge because of the buffeting he has taken, to get the office under his control. He’s in a bigger job than what he had and has to grow into that job.”

“I am deeply troubled because this entire topic has become a two-year saga that is affecting the morale of our office and the faith that people have in county government,” Villines said. Quillin’s comment that he was convening a group including representatives from the offices of the clerk, treasurer and assessor to determine why revenue projections were so much larger than actual revenues reflected badly on the clerk’s office, O’Brien wrote. “The article can be read to imply that our office has somehow been inaccurate in making projections in the past,” said O’Brien, whose diligence and attention to detail were instrumental in fixing the county’s sadly inept system of elections and voter registration in the space of one election cycle.