Fulton County delaying projects, borrowing internally to meet expenses

Dec 04, 2017
Arthur Ferdinand (second from right), Fulton County Tax Commissioner, has urged residents to pay their tax bills early. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County expects to use up its general fund reserves, and borrow nearly $200 million from other county funds, in order to make payroll and pay its bills in late December and early January.

Because property tax bills are not due in much of the county until mid-January, Fulton Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore is taking extraordinary steps to ensure the county can cover its expenses.

She said the county government primarily plans to borrow from three funds: the pay-as-you-go capital fund, the risk management fund and the water and sewer system fund. There will be some cost for that internal borrowing, but Whitmore said Monday she did not know what it would be.

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The state’s revenue commissioner rejected Fulton County’s tax digest, and the department of revenue says must comply with stringent state law.

Depending on how much tax money comes in, Whitmore said she expects to borrow about $192 million from those three funds, and others, in order to pay back a $200 million tax-anticipation loan, make payroll and cover other expenses. The money should be paid back to those funds, and the general fund reserve should be replenished, in mid-February, Whitmore said.

“It’s a cash-flow issue,” she said. “If it were due to some reason other than a timing issue, it would be viewed very, very negatively in the long run.”

The situation, Whitmore said, is “unprecedented” — never before has Fulton County had to push tax collections into the following fiscal year. This year, the delay in tax notices came after Fulton County commissioners decided to freeze most residential values at 2016 levels after residents complained of higher-than-expected property assessments. That decision required new assessment notices to be sent, and resulted in government tax rates that were set later in the year.

Tax bills are due Dec. 31 in Atlanta and Jan. 15 in the rest of Fulton County. The tax commissioner has urged residents to pay their tax bills early.

Whitmore said that as of Monday morning, the county had collected about $27 million, or about 6 percent of the total money owed. Whitmore said she needs at least 28 percent of the money the county is owed to come in before Christmas if Fulton is going to pay its bills.

The county has not implemented a hiring freeze, or taken any other extraordinary measures, but Whitmore said some projects have been delayed so money in the pay-as-you-go capital fund can be available for borrowing. Departments that would normally be able to invest salary savings in their departments are no longer permitted to keep that money. She said the county is being “very careful” with expenditures.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll collect more than the minimum,” Whitmore said. “It’s all about managing your resources until the money comes in.”

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