Audit shows Bertie finances in recovery mode

Published 4:51 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

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WINDSOR – While Bertie County local government’s financial numbers have improved, County Manager Juan Vaughan II is the first to admit there remains much work ahead.

The financial audit for year ending June 30, 2021 was recently released by the firm of Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams & Company of Wilmington

The county’s General Fund showed a net gain of $1,251,806 in revenues over expenditures. Total revenues for the General Fund were $26,802,961 while expenditures totaled $25,551,155.

“We were able to put over one million dollars back into our Fund Balance,” said Vaughan. “That gets us to nearly six and one-half percent of fund balance available as a percentage of General Fund expenditures.

“The state wants a county our size to have eight percent available and our board of commissioners set a policy that calls for 10 percent, so with that you can see we still have some work to do,” Vaughan added.

However, that percentage had dipped dangerously low (1.07%) at the close of FY 2019-20.

He said the county was able to bounce back thanks to budget cuts, reducing expenses, and not appropriating any fund balance as a means to balance the bottom line.

“There are still occasions where we use our fund balance during the year to account for unexpected expenses, but the practice of using it to balance the budget we annually approve each June has ended,” Vaughan stressed.

He said the county is still seeking opportunities to increase revenues and/or grant opportunities as well as closely studying the need to fill county employment positions when they become available.

After back-to-back years (2019 and 2020) of seeing cash on hand (or cash equivalents) at levels under $4.5 million, that number also rose in 2021 to $5,692,598.

Ditto for the General Fund Balance. After a high of $7.28 million in 2017, that number dipped to $4.14 million in 2020. The 2021 audit showed the General Fund Balance at $5.39 million. However, there remains little or no “wiggly room” in the fact that of that amount, $5.15 million is restricted (money that can be spent only for specific purposes).

The county’s tax collection rate was an outstanding 98.11 percent, which is nearly a full percentage point above the state average (97.29%).

Vaughan, named Bertie County Manager in the middle of FY 2019-20, painted a gloomy financial picture in September of last year. There, his presentation showed that as a percentage of the county’s General Fund expenditures within a fiscal year, the available Fund Balance has fallen from 33.21% for FY 2013-14 to 1.07% during FY 2019-20. The largest decline was a 12 percent drop (19.44% to 7.44%) from FY 2017-18 to FY 2018-19.

Vaughan said part of the reason for the decline in available Fund Balance was a steady increase in the annual amounts taken from the county’s “savings account” to help balance the General Fund budget at the start of the fiscal year. That amount was in the $500,000 range during both the FY 2013-14 and 2014-15 budget cycles before more than doubling, or even higher, in subsequent years as follows:

$1.58 million in FY 2015-16

$1.27 million in FY 2016-17

$1.59 million in FY 2017-18

$1.90 million in FY 2018-19

$1.72 million in FY 2019-20

Those dollar amounts grew higher during the 12 months of the budget year. Amendments to the actual budgets resulted in money (original and final) appropriated from Fund Balance exceeding two million dollars in all but one budget year from FY 2015-16 to FY 2019-20. Included in that timeline was $2.43 million as a total appropriation in FY 2015-16. The last two budget cycles shown in Vaughan’s presentation (2018-19 and 2019-20) combined to tap the Fund Balance to the tune of $4.51 million.

Over that same timeline (FY 2013-14 to FY 2019-20), the county’s expenditures exceeded revenues. Spending significantly outpaced revenue in FY 2015-16 by nearly two million dollars. It spiked again in 2018-19 (nearly three million dollars) and nearly two million dollars in 2019-20.

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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