Protecting the citizens’ treasury

Published 4:01 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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GATESVILLE – There’s typically a story within a story, even in an audit report.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here last week, the Gates County Board of Commissioners listened to two versions of the county’s financial audit for fiscal year ending June 30, 2023.

LeAnn Bagasala – representing the county’s contracted auditing, Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC – said the audit resulted in an unmodified (“clean”) opinion, the highest level of assurance that the auditing firm can provide.

She noted that a few material weaknesses identified during the audit have been corrected.

The audit did uncover a budget violation where the county’s General Fund went over budget for educational expenditures.

“You spent more than your budgeted, which is considered a statutory violation,” Bagasala said.

She explained that the violation occurred due to a budget amendment not being properly processed.

Bagasala said a required compliance report within the audit dealing with the federal Medicaid program found no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies in how Gates County handled that money.

“We issued an unmodified opinion, a clean opinion of your federal programs, and that is amazing considering how many individual Medicaid eligibility determinations that are made by your county officials. Most counties have eligibility findings, Gates County did not,” Bagasala noted.

The Commissioners also received a financial update from County Manager Scott Sauer.

“Things have changed with audit presentations. Normally they talk about the numbers. We heard about policy and general standards,” Sauer said.

He added there was a lot that happened between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.

“That budget included a five-cent tax increase, raising the property tax rate from 79 cents to 84 cents,” Sauer recalled of a budget crafted by then County Manager Tim Wilson. “Part of that increase helped the board establish some new positions (assistant county manager, Human Resources Director, Land Records / GIS Coordinator) plus a five and one-half percent cost of living increase for staff.”

Due to the increase in the tax levy, property tax collections for 2022-23 reflected an increase of over $700,000. Meanwhile, sales tax receipts for the year ending June 30, 2023 were up 7.3 percent or $269,000 above the receipts from the previous fiscal year.

“From the conservative approach of what the board budgeted for sales tax to what was actually received represents a gain of $960,000,” Sauer said. “That’s 32 percent above what was budgeted. That comes after a gain of $891,000 over what was budgeted in state sales tax receipts for the year before that. That’s major accolades to this governing body for their conservative budgeting.”

Sauer added that the board also appropriated fund balance to pay off remaining debt service for the DSS building and paying for the new VIPER radios.

He also pointed out other noteworthy financial decisions made by the commissioners, using American Rescue Plan funding to purchase and install new, state-of-the-art water meters throughout the county, purchasing new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office, $500,000 for Broadband, $250,000 for technology upgrades, and identified funds to purchase new fire hydrants, and AED units (portable defibrillators).

The Commissioners also came to the aid of the county’s school system, approving the transfer of $828,000 in non-recurring funds from the school’s Capital Reserve Fund to replenish and stabilized the school’s fund balance.

As of June 30, 2023, Gates County unassigned General Fund balance was $4.2 million.

“That is significant,” Sauer stressed. “That represents 36.5 percent of your General Fund expenditures. The state recommends eight percent for a county our size. Gates County is fiscally sound based on the work of this board. You are protecting the citizens’ treasury.”

In other business from the May 15 meeting:

Approved the formation of a 911 Communications Advisory Board to serve Gates and Perquimans counties;

Re-appointed Renee McGinnis to a term on the Gates County Department of Social Services Board of Directors:

Re-appointed Mary A. Lacy to a term on the Gates County Planning Board;

Approved a budget amendment for $100,000 to cover expected cost overruns to pay for inmate housing ($92,000) and inmate medical expenses ($8,000) during the remainder of the current fiscal year (ending June 30, 2024);

Approved a budget amendment for $40,000 to cover cost overruns in two areas – the transition for the relocation of the Board of Elections office to a new location plus to cover the salaries of part-time and temporary staff used for March 2024 primary and the May 2024 second (run-off) primary elections; and

Approved a one-year contract with Mauldin & Jenkins LLC to conduct an audit of the county’s finances for Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2024.

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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