Hertford’s ‘heartbeat’ is healthy

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WINTON – Some numbers saw a decline, but despite a still shaky economic environment, Hertford County’s financial health still has a fairly strong heartbeat.
That was the assumption of auditor Jim Winston of Winston, Williams, Creech, Evans & Company as he gave a presentation here Monday of the county’s financial status as of June 30 of this year.

“Hertford County received an unqualified opinion, the best you can get in the state of North Carolina,” said Winston as he addressed the county’s Board of Commissioners at their regularly scheduled meeting. “I think the county had a great year, considering the economic climate we’re all in.”

Winston pointed out that the county’s net assets were down by $445,000 ($29.35 million in 2009 compared to $28.90 million as of June 30, 2010), but the liabilities had increased $846,000 (to $13.06 million this year compared to $12.22 million in ’09). However, the overall net assets decreased by nearly $1.3 million.

“Two things impacted that…the county issued some new debt and the booking of the health insurance for county employee retirees,” Winston said.

On the revenue side, Winston’s audit noted a slight decrease, falling from $24.65 million in 2009 to $24.57 million this year.

“That’s not a bad number, especially considering the decline in the revenue you receive from sales tax,” Winston remarked. “Everywhere we have done audits this year we’re seeing government entities getting hammered on lower sales tax numbers. Hopefully, if this economy turns around, that revenue will get better.”

The county’s expenditures were up in excess of a million dollars ($24.69 million in ’09 to $25.86 million as of June 30, 2010).

Winston highlighted where Hertford County receives the bulk of its revenue, noting that nearly half (49 percent) is generated through ad valorem taxes while 16 percent comes from sales tax. He said that sales tax revenue was off by $875,000.

As far as where the county spends those revenues, Winston said the bulk of those funds go to human services (33%), education (28%) and public safety (25%).

The county’s Unreserved General Fund balance (in percentage of expenditures) saw a slight decline…from 30.41 percent in 2009 to the current 28.48 percent.

“That’s still a good number,” Winston said, adding that it was above the statewide average of 20.76 percent for counties the size of Hertford.

The county’s cash on hand increased by $12,000 (now at $9,789,675).

General Fund revenues also increased slightly….$21.47 million as of June 30 compared to $21.21 million that was budgeted. The expenditures were down, meaning Hertford County government officials held the line on spending. They had budgeted $23.44 million and spent $22.45 million, prompting Winston to say, “I really like that number. That’s a great job on your part to control expenses.”

Another financial highlight was the county’s Appropriated Fund Balance. Winston said the county had projected to use $1.32 million to balance their 2009-10 budget, but did not move one penny of that pot of money.

The audit revealed that the tax collection percentage fell from 96.35% in 2009 to 94.75% as of June 30. While that number was down, Winston noted that Hertford County’s tax collection was “spot on” with the state average of 94.5%.

As far as the county’s Water & Sewer Fund, Winston said the Northern Rural Water District showed a $19,000 loss while the Southern Rural Water District had a profit of $111,000. The Sanitation Fund finished the 2009-10 budget year with a slight profit ($1,029). All those numbers were better than 2009.

“I compliment the staff here, especially (County Manager) Loria Williams and (Finance Director) Robbin Stephenson for keeping this ship on a straight course,” Winston remarked.

He closed by saying, “My one note of concern as we look towards the future is the state’s budget shortfall. They’re talking about $3.2 billion. How that shapes out for the counties and municipalities, I’m not sure. I hope they won’t touch the sales tax.”

“I’d like to commend Miss Williams and her staff for a job well done,” said Commissioner Howard Hunter III.

“It was a job well done, but as we all know we’re coming up to a tough year, probably tougher than the year before,” noted Commissioner Curtis Freeman. “We really need to toe the line, but I have confidence in our staff and our commissioners; we have worked hard to control spending in the past and I think we can do the same thing again.”

Commissioners Bill Mitchell and Ronald Gatling also praised the work of the county’s staff for keeping the taxpayer’s money under control. Mitchell added that he would encourage county citizens to shop locally, thus keeping their sales tax money at home.

Gatling motioned and Mitchell offered a second to accept the audit as presented. The motion passed without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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