Originally created 11/17/99

Councilwoman questions Aiken County's financial standing



AIKEN - A project to enlarge and renovate the Aiken County Council Building and the Elections Office was put on hold Tuesday night after some council members voiced reservations about the county's financial condition.

"Before we make a commitment to expand or remodel the Council Building, I think we need to consider the financial condition of the county at the present time," Councilwoman Kathy Rawls said.

Mrs. Rawls maintains she "has not been comfortable" about Aiken County's current financial condition and has worried that the treasury might be experiencing cash flow problems.

Although she indicated she believes the county's coffers will swell beginning in December when this year's tax revenues begin to come in, she is concerned that the county's cash on hand stood at a low $568,000 on Oct. 31.

Mrs. Rawls insists she does not think the county is broke, but she does think the balance should raise a red flag and the county should proceed slowly on additional spending.

She was joined in her concern by council members Willar Hightower and Phil Napier.

However, Aiken County Finance Director Terry Bodiford insisted the county does not have a tax flow problem but is in the best financial shape it has ever been.

"We're in a very stable financial condition, and there is no chance the county can not meet its funding obligations now or later," Mr. Bodiford said.

He noted that the county's general fund reserve, the difference between anticipated revenues and its obligations and encumbrances, stands at $10.8 million. In addition, the county holds $2 million in a separate debt service fund which could be used if necessary to meet its obligations before tax revenues build back up.

"Between July and December, the county does not bring in a big amount of money, historically, but by December revenues begin to increase," Mr. Bodiford said.

Still, Mrs. Rawls is concerned.

As of August, the county had no money invested. She noted that in June 1998, the county had $5.3 million in investments but cashed in $3.8 million last December. In February, $1.5 million was reinvested. The investment matured in August and was cashed in.

"That tells me that in the past year, county has spent almost $5 million in addition to all taxes and revenues that it has collected," she said.

"I have no doubt that the money will definitely come back in, but we should wait until the money's back in before we start another project," Mrs. Rawls said.

Although council unanimously rejected the resolution to contract with HBJL & Associates to draw up plans for renovation and expansion of the Council Building, council members LaWana McKenzie and Eddie Butler went on record that they were confident the county's finances were in order.

"We have made some good investments and we now have Sage Mill. That money we have invested will come back to us time after time," Mr. Butler said.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.