Fund balance rises

Published 8:30 am Thursday, December 12, 2013

JACKSON – The good news is that Northampton County’s 2012-13 budget year was better than expected.

The not-so-good news is that the county still has some ground to cover to get their financial house completely back in order.

At their meeting here last week, the county’s Board of Commissioners heard a partial audit report from Dot Vick, Northampton’s Finance Office. The completed financial spreadsheet, as typically presented by the county’s contracted auditing firm (Martin-Starnes, CPAs), was awaiting its final step….sign-off by the Local Government Commission. The auditor is scheduled to make that formal presentation at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the commissioners.

“I know you are anxious to see those year-end numbers, so I have some information to share with you,” said Vick.

The preliminary numbers showed that Northampton County experienced a General Fund increase in both revenues ($27.72 million to $30.07 million) and expenditures ($26.01 million to $27.18 million) between the 2012 and 2013 budget years.

Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of the audit was Northampton’s ability to increase its fund balance. Vick noted the total General Fund Balance rose by nearly two million dollars – from $5,241,425 in 2012 to $7,198,782 by June 30, 2013.

“Some of that increase was the $848,000 due the county from the Enviva (wood pellets) project,” Vick noted. “That helped increase our fund balance along with some of the other revenue items that exceeded projections.”

Answering a request made by Commission Chairman Robert Carter to further explain the reasons behind the rise in fund balance, Vick said the windfall was good news, but reminded the board and the audience that the county’s “rainy day” fund did drop during the preceding budget year, so much to the point where Northampton officials received a letter from the state to be aware of that decline.

“We invested some of that money last year in several projects and although the revenues will equal the expenditures when those projects are over, those revenues are not available while the project is ongoing,” Vick noted.

“I was worried about the cash flow (while county money was tied-up in the projects), but we made it through; we got some of that money back in August and hope to have all the money back by the end of the year that the county invested in Enviva. When that’s there you’ll see a big difference (in the fund balance), if we don’t use that money for another project,” Vick added.

Vick stressed that although the county had a good budget year, “we’re not rich,” she said.

The “good year” she said was linked to extra revenue ($36,000 last year compared to $199,000 this year) for a new program through the Sheriff’s Office; and an unexpected increase received by the county in state sales tax ($1.79 million vs. the $1.47 million that was projected).

“Plus we had a good year in our county departments, they held the line on spending….all those things add up to help our fund balance grow,” Vick stated.

A strong financial year also translated into Northampton improving its available fund balance as a percent of the General Fund expenditures. In 2012, that percentage fell to 9.70%. For 2013, it rose to 10.30%.

“The average across the state in percentage of fund balance vs. General Fund expenditures is 20 percent, so we’re halfway there,” Vick observed. “We need to increase this some each year. We learned that during the recent federal shutdown how important that percentage is because to make-up for that you might have to go in and use some of your funds. We did have to move some funds this year due to the federal shutdown.”

Vick also noted a rise in the percentage of General Fund expenditures vs. the total fund balance – from 20.15 percent in 2012 compared to 26.48 percent by June 30, 2013.

Revenue streams that saw increases between 2012 and 2013 were: property tax (up to $17.7 million from $16.59 million); restricted intergovernmental funds (now at $7.14 million compared to $6.63 million last year); and sales and services ($2.88 million from $2.51 million).

Vick informed the commissioners of the top four departments that spent county funds during the 2012-13 fiscal year. They were:

Human Services – $10,984,119 (up slightly over the previous year where $10,931,746 was expended);

Public Safety – $7,659,937 (up from $6,589,792);

Education – $3,522,217 (a decrease from $3,694,202); and

General Government – $3,521,231 (up from $3,251,742).

In the Enterprise Fund, water and sewer services wound-up with a net accrual of $218,283, but solid waste services lost $112,359.

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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