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Lowndes County hospital fund investment continues rise


County administrator Ralph Billingsley

County administrator Ralph Billingsley



Nathan Gregory



The gain on Lowndes County's $30 million hospital fund investment continues to grow.  


County administrator Ralph Billingsley reported to supervisors during their meeting Monday that there was a gain of about $1.685 million on the investment since state legislation granted them more investment options. Before the county hired two wealth management firms in October and gave them $15 million each to invest in stocks and state and federal government bonds, it could only invest in certificates of deposit. CDs were only accruing 0.2 percent interest, or $60,000 a year. 


In just three months last year after changing investment vehicles, the gain was more than 12 times that amount, about $767,000. 


Now, supervisors will have the option of withdrawing a portion of the portfolio gain and placing it in the county's general fund for this budget year. They must do so before July 1 and they're only allowed to pull from what was in the fund as of Dec. 31, 2013. 


Supervisors tabled action on withdrawing any money. There was confusion over how much could be withdrawn, which Billingsley said was up to three percent of the total $30.767 million in the fund as of Dec. 31, or $923,000. Withdrawing that amount, however, would cut into the $30 million principal, Board president Harry Sanders noted. 


The legislation passed also allowed up to 85 percent of the yearly portfolio gain to be transferred to the county's general fund. The amount not taken would roll back into the $30 million principal. None of the principal can be touched unless supervisors declare an emergency, in which case up to 5 percent could be withdrawn if the county pays it back.  


Renasant Wealth Management and Stephens Capital Management were each hired on a 30-month trial basis to manage the money. 


Lowndes County sold its hospital to Baptist Memorial in 2006. 




Brooks moves to hire inventory control clerk 


Supervisor Leroy Brooks moved to hire an inventory control clerk by June 13, saying the position had been vacant for nearly a year and that purchasing clerk and accounts payable employees were trying to temporarily fill that void along with fulfilling their normal job obligations.  


"There seems to be a logger jam that's about to occur," Brooks said. "I don't know the rationale for not hiring an inventory clerk. The code section says we must have one." 


Billingsley noted a recent flurry of workers changing positions after the retirement of purchasing clerk Terry Thompson. Two employees were promoted from within and one new employee was hired, meaning there are three people adjusting to new job responsibilities at the same time, Billingsley said, and giving them a month to do so before seeking to fill the inventory control clerk vacancy was something supervisors had previously agreed to do. 


Sanders proposed pushing the deadline back to June 30. 


"We need to hire somebody and we need to do it pretty fast, but I think if you want to hire somebody within ... 10 (business) days, I don't think that's enough time to get a full 13 or 14 applicants, especially if you have to go outside to do that," Sanders said.  


Brooks agreed to the time extension but said he wanted explanation from Billingsley in the future when job positions were being kept vacant for extended periods of time.  


"It's about saving money, but it diminishes the level of efficiency," Brooks said. "Some positions are filled immediately. Some are lingering. That's a state position. As long as somebody is hired by June, I don't care how you all do it." 


The meeting was interrupted shortly before it was over when Brooks asked someone to help him up from his chair and tried to stand but was in noticeable pain. Four people came to his aid as he complained of a cramp and tried to help him stretch it out. Brooks left the room but came back just before the meeting was adjourned. Brooks said Monday afternoon that he'd gotten a hamstring cramp but was OK. 




In other business, the board:  




■ Approved $18,900 in additional services to Neel-Schaffer for design work on the shooting range the county and city is building for Columbus Air Force Base. That money will come out of contingency that was already built in what the county budgeted for the project. 


■ Approved Golden Triangle Maintenance as an alternative tornado debris hauling site and authorized a contract for debris chipping; 


■ Extended the existence of local emergency proclamation for 30 days.


Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.



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