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Hertford County finances improve

WINTON – Although unofficial, the financial picture within Hertford County local government appears to be brighter.

During their regularly scheduled first-of-the-month meeting here Monday, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners were informed that the county’s fund balance has increased by $1.5 million and the tax collection rate (94.95 percent) was at an all-time high.

While the financial news was great, County Manager Don Craft warned that these figures were preliminary. It remains to the discretion of the Local Government Commission (LGC) to accept the report of the auditor handling Hertford County’s finances.

&uot;Our report is in Raleigh and we fully expect it to be 30 days before we hear anything officially,&uot; said Craft.

Raked by costs associated with having to pay the upfront costs for clean up after Hurricane Isabel as well as a growing list of unpaid taxes, Hertford County’s fund balance was $2.9 million in 2003-04. Now, due to a number of financial factors, the fund balance has grown to $4.4 million. Of that amount, $2.4 million is in unrestricted funds, allowing the county to boast of a 13 percent rate in that category. LGC officials prefer that all counties in the state operate with at least an 8 percent unrestricted fund balance.

Robbin Stephenson, the county’s Finance Director, pointed to the debt set-off program, one put in place by the Commissioners earlier this year, as one of the main reasons behind the fund balance increase. That program allows the county, through an agreement with the State Department of Revenue, to deduct back taxes owed to the county from individual state tax returns.

&uot;We were able to collect a lot of back taxes through that program,&uot; stated Stephenson. &uot;However, I must point out that this program may not generate the amount of back taxes next year as it did this year.&uot;

Stephenson went on to point out that increases in fees for services provided by the county, an increase in the amount of sales tax collected by the county, the fact that Medicaid costs were down slightly from previous expectations and the county was experiencing a higher percentage in its collection of ad valoreum taxes were other reasons behind the fund balance increase.

Despite good news, Stephenson warned the commissioners to be &uot;frugal in your spending.&uot;

&uot;Maintaining the fund balance is critical,&uot; stressed Stephenson. &uot;We are already seeing slight increases in some of our budgeted line items for the 2004-05 fiscal year and we’re only four months into that new budget.&uot;

Board of Commissioners Chairman Johnnie Ray Farmer commended Craft, Stephenson, the tax department and other staff members for a job well done in increasing the fund balance.