County’s sham of a budget is amended Tuesday night

Grady County Administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, on Tuesday night described the 2019 operating budget previously adopted by the county commission as a complete fabrication and recommended the board approve budget amendments to increase projected revenues by $277,505 and estimated expenditures by $321,195.
The amended budget is balanced at $14,209,960, up from $13,888,765.
“The budget that was voted on before my time was absolutely fabricated. There is no other word for it,” Johnson said Tuesday night.
The county administrator said that former accounting manager Donna Johnson moved money around in the budget to “make it work out,” but Johnson said that reoccurring expenses were left out.
The former accounting manager had proposed an interagency budget of $397,981, but the county administrator said the actual expenses are $958,981. That correction alone was $561,000.
Administrator Johnson, no relation to the former accounting manager, said that money was moved around within the various departments and in some cases money was included in the department budgets that had not been requested while others were shorted.
“We’ve been working diligently on this since my arrival. Laura Nichols (the Thomas County finance director with whom the county has contracted for financial assistance) has been awesome. She, Mary (Griffin), and Holly (Murkerson) have finally got the 2019 budget appropriately laid out,” Johnson said.
“Was this a criminal act? No! It is straight up negligence and incompetence, but we’ve worked very hard to get it correct,” Johnson said.
The county administrator credited the work of the county’s elected officials and department heads for submitting comprehensive budget information that Nichols could use to formulate the amended budget. Administrator Johnson says Nichols also used actual expenses from 2018 in crafting the amended budget.
“To be clear, this budget is tight. We are going to have to pull up our belt, but we think it’s doable. We know how we got here and we don’t want to go down that road again,” the county administrator said.
County employees had thought they would receive a two-percent cost of living raise beginning in January, but the county administrator is recommending the board not pay any raises until later in the year when it can be determined if there is sufficient revenue to finance the increased payroll.
Chairman Ray Prince said he had been concerned with the budget produced by the former accounting manager when she presented numbers that did not add up at a budget workshop.
“I’m just stunned,” Commissioner LaFaye Copeland said and added, “How does someone just make up something?”
“I want to make it very clear this is not a problem we will have in the future. We have a new finance director (Murkerson) who is quite competent and knowledgeable, even somewhat frugal. I’m confident it will not be a problem in the future,” Johnson said.
Former accounting manager Donna Johnson abruptly resigned on Sept. 12 and the county commission took action to employ Nichols as the interim finance director at a rate of $40 per hour. On Tuesday night, the county administrator said he planned to continue utilizing Nichols’ services at least through January to aid in the full transition to finance director Murkerson.
Donna Johnson had served as the accounting manager since April 7, 2015, and had come to work for the county in May 2014 as an accounting clerk. She had been recommended for both jobs by former county administrator Carlos Tobar.
Current county administrator Johnson says the county has been overpaying employees overtime pay and overtime has been mismanaged for years.
According to the county administrator, it has been discovered that insurance premium deductions for employees in many cases were never taken out or were not the proper amounts.
“All of these issues, together with some other fundamental problems, have been a huge part of the budget shortfall,” administrator Johnson said. He admits the expenses associated with the lake greatly impact the county’s budget, but he says it is not the county’s only budget issue.

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