Georgetown survives '09 budget crunch

Georgetown County finances took a hit in 2009, but the county still was able to move forward with some capital improvement projects, according to the county's 2009 audit.

The county more than tripled its spending for cultural and recreational facilities and was able to reduce general government spending.

The audit for the fiscal year ending in June 2009 was presented to the County Council on Tuesday. It came back with an unqualified opinion, which means the county complied with all legal requirements.

"I think it's excellent and superb," Chairman Johnny Morant said of the audit. "And it shows the county is doing well financially."

The county spent about $21.9 million on general government costs in 2009, down from $26.1 million in 2008.

Overall the county spent about $79.3 million in 2009, which included about $21.4 million on public safety; $3.2 million on public works; $7 million for health, welfare and economic and environmental services; $18.7 million in recreational and cultural services; and $7.1 million in debt service, according to the audit.

Cultural and recreational facilities and services spending went from $ 5.6 million in 2008 to $18.7 million in 2009. The increases were due to spending for the county's capital improvement plan called Visions II, which included projects such as the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex.

The county saw a decrease in certain revenue accounts, according to the audit. The county's collection of fees, licenses and permits went from about $10 million in 2008 to $8.9 million in 2009. State aid was reduced from $1.1 million in 2008 to $886,829 in 2009.

Overall revenue decreased from $87.8 million in 2008 to $59.1 million in 2009. The bulk of the decrease was attributed to the $28.4 million the county collected in bond proceeds in 2008 that it did not collect in 2009.

There were some funds that increased in revenue. The county collected about $1.6 million more in grant funding than in 2008. The county also collected $32.1 million in property taxes in 2009, up from the $31 million it collected in 2008.

The tourism industry in Georgetown County declined some in the 2008-09 budget year but remained relatively strong.

Economic factors, however, will continue to affect the county's 2010 budget, according to the audit.

The audit indicated that the county positioned itself well financially for the 2010 budget.

The county saved about $120,000 by delaying filling positions. The county also eliminated about 28 positions and cost-of-living pay increases. Employees also had a 3 percent across-the-board wage reduction.

Councilman Jerry Oakley said he was pleasantly surprised by the audit.

"I was prepared for worse than what we got," Oakley said. "It was not as bad as we feared. We're doing O.K."