Brookhaven, GA, May 12, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Brookhaven Councilmembers voted unanimously Tuesday evening to allocate almost $1.4 million in Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) reserves to fund and complete a backlog of public works projects that were previously approved, but no funds had been assigned to them. As a result, the projects have been sitting in a state of pause.
A HOST update presented during Tuesday’s Work Session by City Finance Director, Carl Stephens, led to Councilmembers amending the Regular Meeting agenda to allow them to allocate funding and get these projects underway. The majority of these projects have been hanging in limbo since 2014 and consist of sidewalks and paving, for the most part.
“In order for any business or government to operate efficiently, it is imperative to know how it stands financially,” Mayor John Ernst told The Post. “Before we go in and promise new projects and work on new initiatives, it is our responsibility to know where we are starting from – which helps ensure we do not over-commit and under-deliver.”
After taking office in January, Mayor Ernst tasked Stephens to take a deep dive in to the City’s finances and give him a report of what money is coming in, where it goes and how much the City has on hand. In addition, Ernst tasked Stephens to get a handle on all of the projects promised that have not been delivered on and why, from a financial perspective.
The total amount of HOST proceeds collected by the City for the period of 2013 through 2015, totals $17,300,045.38. Of that $17.3 million, the City has spent a net of $8,493,221.50, leaving $8,807,823.88 available. Of the $8.8 million available, the City has committed nearly $5.3 million for projects.
As a result of the shuffling of money around from department to department by the former City Manager, the balance sheet became convoluted. Stephens found that in Parks, there is $1 million that has been budgeted but never appropriated to specific projects. In Public Works, however, that department had nearly a $1.4 million deficit between projects previously promised, and the funds that were transferred into the Public Works budget.
Tuesday’s move by Council, balanced the Public Works budget by transferring $1.4 million of HOST funds, allowing these backlogged projects to move forward. Councilmembers said they want these projects acted on and underway as soon as possible.
This leaves $3.5 million in uncommitted HOST funds for the City to work with for other projects, more HOST money will be received beginning in August. This time each year, income at City Hall is at its lowest point because HOST proceeds don’t start trickling in until August. The City receives most of its revenue in the last half of the year.
Stephens also warned the Council the amount of HOST the City had budgeted in 2015, came in less than the City’s projection. He said this year, it appears the trend may continue. He also urged Council to be cognizant of the trend and reminded them of the uncertainty around the future of HOST and how it will be allocated in the future.
A great resource for learning about HOST – how it came about, what it is and what it does – can be found here in this brief by Georgia State University.