County officials clarify budget deficit

Published 11:01 am Friday, March 2, 2012

GATESVILLE – A budget deficit of $309,800 is real….how that figure was reported to county officials here remains a matter of contention.

In the Feb. 15 edition of the Gates County Index, it was reported that an error in Gates County local government’s 2011-12 fiscal year budget has resulted in an effort to bring the bottom line back into balance.

County Finance Officer Sandy Pittman formally reported the error to the Gates County Board of Commissioners at their Feb. 1 meeting.

The Index based its story on a Jan. 30 letter penned by County Manager Toby Chappell to the commissioners, a copy of which was requested and received by this newspaper.

“Mrs. (Renee) McGinnis (the county’s tax collector) gave us an amount of $5,953,253, believing that she was telling us the total number for taxes (current and delinquent taxes plus refunds and fees),” Chappell wrote in that letter. “However, it was understood by my office that this was the current year taxes only. Therefore, the delinquent taxes and fees minus the refunds were counted twice in the budget. This error has led to a deficiency of $309,800 in our current budget.”

Last week, the Index received an email from the county’s local government office asking for a correction on that Feb. 15 front page article. The request for a correction was made by Commission Chairman Graham Twine and Vice-Chairman Henry Jordan.

The email reads as follows:

“Based on statements from Gates County Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Graham Twine and Vice-Chairman, Henry Jordan, Mrs. Renee McGinnis did not give to the County the over stated amount of projected revenue quoted in the Wednesday, February 15, 2012 edition of the Gates County Index as being $5,953,253.  The tax office provided the County with the total assessed values of real and personal properties in the County, which is $921,620,605, and this amount was given to the County Manager and Commissioners so they could determine what the tax rate should be for the new budget year.  The error was a result of current values and delinquent taxes plus refunds being added together and multiplied by our current tax rate of 64 cents; which produced the erroneous $5,953,253 quote and $309,800 deficit.  As previously stated, financial adjustments have been made in several departments and the modifications will not disrupt services provided by the County.”

It was further reported in the Feb. 15 edition, based on statements made by county officials at the Feb. 1 meeting, that to counteract the deficit Chappell said financial adjustments have been made in several departments, modifications he said that would not disrupt the services provided by the county to its citizens.

“The amount that is adjusted will not be an amendment to the budget,” Chappell said. “The finances will be encumbered in place. If the resources are located during the year, the encumbered amounts will be released.”

County officials laid out the proposed budget reductions. They included:

Merit raises ($12,500)

Misc./Sunbury School ($12,500)

Condemned houses ($10,000)

FEMA ($15,000)

Courthouse flooring ($11,000)

Courthouse roof ($130,000)

Courtroom repairs ($20,000)

Sheriff vehicle ($20,000)

Boarding inmates ($20,000)

Finance Dept. part-time salaries ($3,700)

Building and Grounds fuel ($5,000)

According to information provided to the Index at the Feb. 1 meeting, those budget reductions total $259,700. To make-up the difference between that figure and the $309,800 deficit, county officials projected $50,100 worth of increased revenues through the current tax budget due to estimated vs. actual deferments ($44,000) and CSE/DSS overpayments that have been received but not budgeted ($6,100).

“If we see that our revenues are coming in higher than projected then we can release some of these encumbered funds and go forward with these projects,” Pittman told the commissioners at the Feb. 1 meeting. “This was sent to you as information to get your input to see if you are good with this plan or if you have other things you would like to see done to handle this issue.”

Pittman said she was closely watching two to three line items where funds may very well come in over what was budgeted.

“The tax levies and the tax collections will not make this up, we know that,” Pittman stressed. “We don’t expect the collections to offset this, so we have identified other places where we think we can offset these.”

Pittman said she could reevaluate the financials at the end of March or early April to see if there were revenue lines coming in higher than projected.

“The intent of this information was to make you aware that a problem had been identified as well as a solution being identified,” said Chappell. “If we move further into the year and the problem is not as bad as anticipated, then we’ll release the money on projects we had planned to do.”

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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