Saving the best for last

Published 4:28 pm Friday, December 6, 2019

WINTON – In what was her final audit, the financial numbers reflect one of the reasons why Loria Williams was hired decades ago as Hertford County Manager…she is very capable of managing a budget.

The auditing firm of Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams and Company agrees with that assessment.

At their meeting here Monday, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners were presented with the county’s 2018-19 audit, one that gave the county a clean bill of financial health for the budget year ending June 30, 2019.

“Overall, this is a very good report,” stated Allen Thompson whose firm handled the annual audit. “We gave the county an unmodified report….a clean report. There were no significant findings in our audit.”

For Williams, who is retiring on Dec. 31, the work she and her financial staff put in to ensuring the “bottom line” was in the black was worth the effort.

“We were able to accomplish a lot of things internally this past budget year,” Williams said. “Our revenues to expenditures are better aligned. We had a very good year financially. I’m pleased and proud to leave this county in good financial shape.”

Thompson’s report revealed significant financial gains from previous budget years, highlighted by nearly a one million dollar increase in total fund balance ($10.39 million in 2018-19 compared to $9.41 million the previous year).

The county’s unassigned fund balance is $4.36 million, the highest it has been since 2015 ($4.78 million).

Meanwhile, the efforts of Williams and her staff to better align revenues vs. expenditures paid off. Those expenditures for 2018-19 were $23.65 million, representing nearly a $3 million drop from the $26.55 million spent in 2017-18.

When comparing the unassigned fund balance as a percentage of the General Fund expenditures, Hertford County boasts of a rate of 18.47 percent.

“That’s a key number looked at by the state; the state wants a county to have a minimum of 8.5 percent of unassigned fund balance on hand. Yours is over 18 percent,” Thompson stressed.

The county’s “cash in hand” also reflected an increase, showing $8.74 million in the general fund for 2018-19 compared to $7.79 million the previous budget year.

Meanwhile, the county’s debt service payments continue to decline: $17.52 million in 2018-19 compared to $19.26 million in 2017-18. The current debt service is the lowest it has been in the past five years

Thompson also praised the county for its tax collection rate (96.37 percent). That’s the highest rate since 2017 (96.46 percent).

General Fund revenues also showed increases as follows (the dollar amount in parenthesis reflects the previous budget year – 2017-18):

Ad Valorem taxes: $14.14 million ($13.64 million);

Local Option Sales Tax: $5.07 million ($4.79 million);

Sales & Services: $1.93 million ($1.89 million); and

Investment earnings: $141,892 ($61,799).

Expenditures across the board were lower in 2018-19 than 2017-18 as follows:

General Government: $4.13 million ($4.59 million);

Public Safety: $6.53 million ($7.38 million);

Human Services: $5.43 million ($6.05 million);

Education: $5.60 million ($6.78 million); and

Economic Development: $352,500 ($368,972).

Totaling all the funds (general, water, sanitation, other), Hertford County boasted of $12.7 million in cash and a shade over $20 million worth of fund balance as of June 30 of this year.

The total fund balance available represents 33.4 percent of the General Fund expenditures. That’s the highest since the 37.74 percent from the 2014-15 fiscal year and a huge increase over last year (26.42 percent).

“I want to thank Ms. Williams because one of my concerns was to see an increase in our fund balance,” said Commissioner Andre Lassiter. “I congratulate her on her efforts; she deserves major credit for that. Plus we have the second highest [tax] collection rate we’ve seen in the past five years. It took a lot of work to pull that off.”

“It takes a staff to be onboard with this [improvement],” Williams responded. “We worked diligently to make this happen.”

Williams, however, did point out one area still in need of improvement – sanitation (solid waste collection). As it has showed in previous audits, sanitation was in the red for 2018-19 to the tune of $55,886.

“We grapple with this every year,” Williams noted. “It’s a very volatile revenue stream cash-wise. There remains some work to be done there.”

“In the long run, ya’ll are not in the business of providing solid waste disposal to make a ton of money,” Thompson observed. “It’s just like your county water system, it’s there to provide a service to your citizens. You still have to address issues of cost, and transfers (from other funds) can be a way to bridge that gap to get you to where the citizens can afford to bear the costs they pay for that service. Sometimes getting those costs in line is the challenge you face as commissioners.”

Thompson added that the financial issues with sanitation isn’t confined only to Hertford County.

“My firm provides auditing services to 15-to-20 counties and I’ve seen other counties struggling with the same issues with the sanitation you have here,” he concluded.

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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