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Bertie finances in good shape

WINDSOR – Bertie County is not Chowan County.

While that fact is obvious, Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb made sure the message was sent clearly here Monday morning.

Officials in Chowan County have been dealing with the near depletion of their county’s fund balance. Commissioners in that county said they were unaware of the fact the fund balance which once contained more than $25 million had been nearly depleted.

Chowan County Manager Peter Rascoe said the county was not able to meet its financial obligations when he took over in June of this year. There is an on-going criminal investigation while county residents there may come face-to-face with a property tax hike as much as 19 cents.

During Monday’s meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners, Lamb said he wanted the board and the commissioners to be aware of the financial stability in the county.

“I’m giving you this report because of the situation in Chowan County,” Lamb said. “I want you and the citizens of Bertie County to rest assured no such situation exists here.”

The manager then handed out a series of documents showing the financial stability in Bertie County.

The first part of the discussion centered around tax collection rates for Bertie County. Lamb’s chart showed the collection rate for property taxes has risen annually since the 1999-2000 budget year.

The lowest point since 1984-85 was the 88.59 percent collected in 1999-2000. Since that time, the collection rate has risen every year until reaching 95.56 for the 2006-07 budget year. It is projected to rise to 95.67 for the last fiscal year, but the county finances have not been audited for 2007-08.

At the same time, the amount of delinquent taxes owed to Bertie County has dropped each year since 2000. At that time, delinquent taxes were at $1.3 million. Since then, it has dropped steadily until reaching an estimated $734,203 as of June 30, 2008.

Lamb also showed that the percentage of uncollected taxes had dropped even though taxes have increased over those same years. In 2000, the uncollected taxes represented 9.37 percent of the budget. It was down to 4.04 percent as of the end of 2006-07 budget year.

Bertie County officials have been good stewards of the money it has collected, Lamb reported, saying that without raising taxes over the past seven years, the county has been able to increase the unreserved fund balance. That is the same fund balance that has been depleted in Chowan County.

Bertie County recorded $2.1 million of extra funds in 2000 and that number has risen each year. The unreserved fund balance as of June 30, 2007 was nearly $5.6 million. Lamb said he believes that figure will remain about the same once the audit of 2007-08 has been completed.

That fund balance, as of 2007, was 30.32 percent of the budget. Lamb said the Local Government Commission requires eight percent and strongly suggests at least 15 percent. He said they would prefer a small county like Bertie have at least a 25 percent fund balance.

Lamb also showed the board that while increases had occurred in fund balance and tax collection, the actual expenditures for the county have increased only moderately over the same time span.

The county manager said he wanted to make sure the board knew where the money was located.

“There’s nothing hidden,” he said. “We want you to know the money is actually in the bank and accounted for.”

Lamb showed the county currently had nearly $100,000 in checking, just under $4.2 million in the North Carolina Capital Management Trust and another $5 million in CDs.

Lamb explained that the Trust was a liquid asset which the county could access immediately as opposed to a CD which had to wait for a maturity date.

He said the county had a total investment of $9.3 million which included not only fund balance money, but also some from the water system.

“I wanted to give you an update of where we are,” Lamb said. “We have been able to accomplish a firm financial standing while maintaining the same tax rate over the past seven years.”

Commissioner Rick Harrell said he wanted to point out that the financial stability had been maintained while the county built a new hospital, health department, social services building and middle school.

Commissioner J. Wallace Perry thanked Lamb for the report and said he was pleased with what he heard.

Commission Chairman Norman Cherry closed by saying, “This lets the public know we’ve been good stewards of their money.”