Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb officials investigating $4 million revenue drop

It turns out that LOST funds may be lost revenue for Macon-Bibb County.

During a budget work session Wednesday morning, commissioners learned of a drop of about $4 million in the local option sales tax, also known as LOST, from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013.

Julie Moore, assistant to the county manager, said officials are investigating with the Georgia Department of Revenue, to try to explain why Macon and Bibb County received about $4 million less in fiscal 2012 than the previous year under the category “miscellaneous services,” which include transportation, information technology, finance, insurance, health care, arts and entertainment, and finance.

Macon and Bibb County were separate governments at the time.

In fiscal 2012, Macon and Bibb County received about $6.3 million combined from that portion of the LOST, but the following year, they only received about $2.275 million.

Moore said local officials don’t have a specific reason why the money dropped off so sharply. According to records, there were significant differences in collections in July 2011 compared with July 2012, and in January 2012 compared with January 2013 -- almost a $1 million difference in both cases.

According to information she provided the commissioners, Moore said Georgia cities and counties of similar size -- Athens/Clarke County, Augusta/Richmond County and Columbus/Muscogee County -- don’t show similar sharp dropoffs in revenue.

Macon and Bibb County collected a total of about $35.8 million in LOST funds in fiscal 2012, but about $30.5 million in fiscal 2013.

Columbus/Muscogee County received slightly more in LOST revenues in fiscal 2012 than Macon and Bibb County but saw a much less significant drop the following year. Macon and Bibb County’s dropoff was down about 15 percent in fiscal 2013, while the overall state drop was about 1 percent.

Macon-Bibb Commissioner Gary Bechtel, the chairman of the Operations and Finance Committee, said that while he was aware of a drop in LOST revenues, Wednesday’s meeting was the first time commissioners had seen actual numbers.

Bechtel said the answer might be explained by something as simple as incorrect coding in a computer, but it could be something more.

“It deserves an answer or some explanation from the Department of Revenue,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t do the research until very recently. ... But I think the commissioners and the administration as well as the taxpayers deserve an explanation as to why this is, and get the money that we may or may not be owed.”

Bechtel said commissioners first became aware of the issue when they asked Macon-Bibb officials for more details of how projected sales tax revenue is calculated.

An effort to reach the Georgia Department of Revenue late Wednesday afternoon was unsuccessful.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.