Originally created 05/08/02

Augusta approves finance director



After swapping pledges to run a fiscally conservative government, Augusta commissioners voted to hire Chatham County Finance Director David Persaud to fill the same job in Augusta's Finance Department. The position has been vacant for 16 months.

Tuesday's vote, which passed 8-0-1 with Commissioner Marion Williams abstaining and Commissioner Ulmer Bridges absent, was met with applause from the commission chamber gallery, which included several Finance Department employees.

Mr. Persaud and his wife attended Tuesday's meeting. He said he plans to tender his resignation with Chatham County today.

His start date in Augusta is scheduled for June 3, and his salary was approved at $95,000 plus benefits.

Financial problems have plagued the Savannah-area county for years. But Augusta commissioners said Tuesday that they believed a depleted fund balance and lack of a reserve policy in Chatham County reflected poor policy making on the part of county commissioners, not Mr. Persaud.

"We're getting a finance director; we're not getting another commissioner," Commissioner Willie Mays said. "If people don't vote to support those (fiscally conservative) ideas, you can't turn around and crucify the staff folk (involved)."

Chatham County commissioners voted last year to cut its budget 11.5 percent, and the sheriff there is suing the city for a $3 million reduction mandated to his department.

Mr. Persaud told commissioners that his promise to maintain Augusta's fund balance, which stands at about $60 million, "would be a good starting point."

"As a staff member, you've got to be responsible and accountable enough to remind the governing body of the importance of a fund balance," said Mr. Persaud, who has been director of finance for Chatham County since December 1987.

Mr. Persaud also provided commissioners with a memo dated in 1991 that outlined his recommendations for generating "the required level or acceptable level of reserved fund balance to meet the fiscal needs of Chatham County."

Commissioner Steve Shepard, who obtained the memo, said the Chatham County commissioner's belief that reserve money belongs in the pockets of taxpayers was not reflective of Mr. Persaud's fiscal management style.

"I would have been worried about the problems Chatham County has had with fund balance," if not for the memo, Mr. Shepard said.

Chatham County has an annual budget of $323 million, slightly smaller than Augusta's 2002 budget, which was approved at $346.5 million. Mr. Persaud will be supervising about the same number of employees.

Augusta's finance director job has been vacant since January 2001, after commissioners voted unanimously to fire Comptroller Lon Morrey.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.