WINTON – Six months ago, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners approved a $25.9 million operating budget for 2015-16 without a cost-of-living raise for county employees.
On Monday, after learning of the overall strength of the county’s financial coffers, the board rewarded those employees with a three percent raise.
“We had discussed giving our employees a cost-of-living increase before this current budget was adopted effective July 1, 2015 and decided at that time to wait and see where we are financially come audit time,” said County Manager Loria Williams at Monday’s meeting. “We have those audit numbers now and you can decide whether or not to open the discussion about possible raises at this time.”
Williams said a two percent raise would cost $145,481 while a three percent salary hike comes with a $218,221 price tag.
“The money will come from fund balance appropriated,” she added. “We appropriated $1.43 million to balance this year’s (2015-16) budget so what ever you decide, the raises will come on top of, in addition to that $1.43 million.”
“My recommendation would be three percent; all of our employees work hard,” said Commissioner Curtis Freeman who then turned his recommendation into a motion.
Commissioner Gary Lewter offered a second and the motion passed without objection.
The raises are effective Jan. 1.
The decision to approve the raise came later in Monday’s regularly scheduled commissioners’ meeting. Earlier they were presented with the annual audit report from Jim Winston, of Winston, Williams, Creech, Evans & Company.
In that report, Winston said the county is in, “strong financial health,” adding that the county received “an unmodified opinion on their June 30, 2015 (the close of the 2014-15 fiscal year) financial statement.”
Winston began his presentation by pointing out that the county had improved its net financial position by nearly two million dollars ($19.65 million in 2014 to $21.26 million in 2015). That was due to revenues ($27.6 million) exceeding expenditures ($25.2 million).
“Ya’ll did a great job in controlling your expenditures,” Winston stated.
He did note a decline in the total fund balance of all governmental funds from $16.49 million on July 1, 2014 to $12.1 million on June 30, 2015.
“That can be traced to the cash needs of several construction projects going on at that time, mainly with your new courthouse and government center,” Winston remarked.
However, the general fund balance available for appropriation as a percentage of expenditures did rise slightly from 36.15% to 37.74%. Both numbers are above the state average of 30.17%.
“You’re well above the state average,” Winston said. “The state requires a minimum of 8 percent of your fund balance to be available for appropriation; you are far, far above that minimum.”
He added that General Fund revenues increased by $258,000 while the expenditures side of that fund was $1.25 million less than what was originally budgeted.
When the 2014-15 budget was approved, it appropriated $1.83 million to the General Fund in order to balance that financial spreadsheet. However, by controlling expenditures, only $253,000 of that funding was actually used.
“You were over $1.5 million to the good there,” Winston stressed.
Winston also pointed out that the county’s tax collection rate of 95.77 percent was right on target with the state average of 96.05 percent. He noted that Hertford County’s collection rate had improved from 95.03 percent in 2014 and 93.89 percent in 2013.
The county’s proprietary funds produced mixed results for 2014-15. Winston said both water districts finished the year with net gains in operating income ($488,164 for the Southern District and $129,591 for the Northern District). Meanwhile the Tunis Sewer District and the county’s Sanitation Department finished the fiscal year in the red (-$25,727 and -$30,814 respectively).
“Overall, Hertford County had a good year financially. I’m really impressed with your fund balance at over 37 percent,” Winston concluded.
“We commend Ms. (Loria) Williams, county staff and the department heads for such a fine job in handling the county’s finances,” said Commission Chairman Ronald Gatling. “We had several construction projects going on at that time and to increase our fund balance means someone is doing a remarkable job in handling our finances.”