Couthouse WEB ONLY!

Albany County commissioners approved their 2020 fiscal year budget Tuesday with $13 million of general fund expenditures, about $140,000 more than the previous year, but the big news of the day was that the county’s revenue picture is a lot better than when commissioners began budget considerations this spring.

While she was originally expecting the county to have $1.8 million in cash-on-hand at the end of the current fiscal year, Treasurer Tracy Fletcher reported instead Tuesday the county has $2.7 million in cash.

“It’s been a number of years since we’ve been remotely close to this situation,” Fletcher said. “My recommendation is to leave the money there. This will help us get our foot in the right direction for next year.”

Fletcher did have one recommendation for how to use some of the extra money, an idea met with enthusiasm from commissioners and the county’s chief budget officer, County Clerk Jackie Gonzales.

At Fletcher’s suggestion, the county set aside $392,587 to create a fund that will allow the county to pay for some needed renovations at the courthouse, including a new door, security cameras and fixing a drainage issue on the county’s east side.

That new account should also help the county pay for any change orders on the renovation of the courthouse’s north entrance, which is being rebuilt this summer.

The improved revenue picture also triggered one other last-minute budget change.

Commissioner Pete Gosar said too many of the county’s “community partners,” like the numerous nonprofits that provide basic social services, went without the county funding they requested.

“There’s a bunch of entities that we’ve given a fraction of what they asked for,” Gosar said. “I think it’s important to take care of hungry folks and people who need housing.”

At Gosar’s request, the county set aside about $62,000 Tuesday in the 2020 budget so commissioners can review, in coming months, some of the funding requests made by the county’s nonprofits and increase the appropriations to outside groups. The county had already just appropriated $233,793 for those community partners.

The 2020 fiscal year budget was created after many hours of commissioners sitting through budget hearings with staff from the county clerk’s office, department heads and other elected officials.

“The upshot of this budget is that this last year has been good for Albany County in terms of economic activity,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said.

Two years ago, a budget crunch lead to layoffs and a 19 percent budget cut, including cutting 2.5 positions from Gonzales’s office.

The favorable budget news Tuesday was enough to bring Gonzales, who’s held her office for almost three decades, to tears.

“We were able to come to some real decisions that will benefit the people that we serve,” she said. “I’m just humbled because we’ve never really been in the place where we’ve been able to have some funds available to put forward for future consideration. I’m a big-picture person, and I always like being able to look forward to what we’ll be able to do in an emergency situation. And now we have some funds available, so these are tears of relief.”

Richardson also expressed relief at this year’s financial picture.

“The last two budget years were heart-breaking, and it was basic survival of this organization,” he said. “We had to do some things that wouldn’t have been sustainable over time in terms of staffing and pay. We were down to nothing, so we probably owe a thanks to the businesses and consumers for investing in this community, because that’s how the tax revenue flows through this organizations. … We stick together and there’s real stewardship here of public resources. I don’t know if I could have handled another heartbreaking budget.”

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