Auditor: Conservative spending and high tax revenue have led to an increase in county fund balance – Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Rowan County’s general fund balance increased by $18 million in the past fiscal year due to prudent spending and increased sales and property tax revenue, Auditor Tonya Thompson said. .
Thompson, who works for accounting firm Martin Starnes & Associates, delivered the findings Monday afternoon to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners along with the results of the county’s 2020-21 budget audit, which began May 1. July 2020 and ended on June 30. .
Thompson issued an unqualified or “unmodified” opinion, which means the county’s financial statements are in accordance with accounting principles. A clean opinion is what local governments strive for.
The report found that county revenues of $166.6 million far exceeded expenses of $146.7 million.
The county had a total fund balance of $73.7 million, a significant increase from the previous year’s fund balance of $55.5 million. Revenue increased by $9.9 million, or 6.6%, primarily due to an increase in property and local taxes. The county collected $92.3 million in property taxes, an increase of $3.1 million from the previous year. Sales tax increased from $28.5 million in fiscal year 2019-20 to $32.2 million in the prior fiscal year, a jump of 13%. Restricted intergovernmental revenue increased by $3.4 million, primarily due to grants and government assistance due to COVID-19.
The increase in sales tax revenue likely happened because people traveled less during the pandemic and spent money locally, Thompson said. She said municipalities across the state have benefited from the sales tax hike and warned commissioners not to expect the same level of local spending in the future.
While the county generated more tax revenue, it also spent less last year. Expenses decreased by $5.8 million, a decrease of 4%. Education spending decreased by $1.1 million, or 2%. Public Safety went down $108,000. Spending on social services decreased by $2 million, or 7%. Education, public safety, and social services were still the county’s top three expenditures.
“For the most part, expenses have been reduced a bit due to COVID,” Thompson said. “You had to pause some things and be conservative not knowing how the economy was going to recover based on the COVID pandemic.”
The county’s available fund balance, which is unrestricted money that can be drawn from the general fund for any purpose, was $54.8 million, or 36.8 percent of the county’s net expenditures. This is well above the 16% required of each county by the Local Government Commission. The median for governments like Rowan County with general fund expenditures over $100 million is 32%.
The county reduced its debt service by $4.6 million, or 31%, by paying off school repayment obligations and assuming no major new debt.
The county had a “flag of concern,” a violation of the law caused by spending money without accounting for it in the budget. The violation happened because the Government Accounting Standards Board changed the way it requires local governments to record revenues and expenses instead of the county doing something wrong, Thompson said. Rowan County Chief Financial Officer Jim Howden said the county has addressed the issue by adjusting its recording methods.
The county also submitted its audit after the November 30 deadline set by the Local Government Commission. Howden said the county was unable to complete the audit on time due to staffing shortages, COVID-19 complications and a delay in implementing new accounting software. . He said the county aims to submit its audit early next year. Rowan County is one of several counties that missed the deadline, and Howden said there was no penalty.
In other meeting business:
• The board received an update from the staff behind Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Better Jobs for Better Lives initiative. Launched in 2017, the program provides short-term job training to Rowan County residents to help them improve their career prospects while simultaneously helping local businesses find skilled workers. The three-step initiative helps participants refocus, retrain and then re-employ.
The Board of Commissioners allocates $100,000 per fiscal year to provide scholarship opportunities for the program. Better Jobs for Better Life has served nearly 3,000 Rowan counties since its inception, providing 650 scholarships with a total value of $282,248.
The number of people served by the program declined last year due to the pandemic, but RCCC Vice President, Corporate and Continuing Education Craig Lamb said the number of participants had already started to rebound in 2022. Lamb said healthcare certifications like nursing assistant have been especially popular lately, as have commercial driver’s license programs, which are required to operate certain machinery or vehicles.
• Commissioners approved a document loan agreement between the Rowan Public Library and Salisbury Newsmedia, LLC, for the library to access the physical archives of the Salisbury Post and digitize the documents, photographs and articles therein. The archives contain documents from the early 1900s, some of which may not exist elsewhere.
The board has also authorized the library to apply for a grant from the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation to help defray the costs of what will be a labor-intensive project.
• Commissioners approved a lease with Piedmont Players Theater for the community theater organization to lease space at West End Plaza for $1 per year. The space the organization will use will be determined in the future.
• Council also approved a lease with The High Road, Inc. for the 2,7000 square foot space formerly occupied by the Tsunami Development Literacy Program at West End Plaza. The High Road, a non-profit organization, plans to open a center for veterans. The initial term of the lease is one year with four renewals of one year each and the rate is $1 per year.
• The council accepted a $24,499 grant from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission which will be used by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to purchase a tactical throwing phone and 14 heavy-duty bumpers with fender wraps, a headlight cover and mounted lights to put on patrol vehicles.
• Council approved the purchase of three Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office at a cost of $94,211. Each truck will cost $31,337 plus $200 each for a color upgrade. The cost of the trucks has been factored into the county’s current fiscal year budget.
• The commissioner approved an agreement with the sheriff’s office for the purchase of four Tasers and body cameras for $32,706. The equipment will be used by the Warrant Squad.