FROM TUESDAY'S HENDERSONVILLE TIMES-NEWS
COUNTY GETS GOOD FINANCIAL REPORT CARD
Henderson County was able to grow its reserves by $2.5 million in the last fiscal year, thanks to better-than-expected revenues and conservative budgeting by department heads, county commissioners heard Monday.
In a budget report card to the Board of Commissioners, Finance Director Carey McLelland said every county department came in under budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30, for a total savings of $5.2 million dollars in operating costs.
"Basically, we had about a 6.8 percent savings in the operational costs of county government," said County Manager Steve Wyatt.
On top of that, revenues in 2011-12 came in $2.2 million over budget, thanks in large part to $862,847 in unexpected sales tax growth.
Commissioners had appropriated $4.9 million from the county's fund balance for fiscal year 2011-12. On Monday, McLelland said the revenue gains, combined with operational savings, mean the county is expected to grow its general fund balance to $26.8 million, or 25 percent of the current year's budget.
By comparison, the state recommends that county governments carry a fund balance (reserves) of 8 percent, while the Board of Commissioners has a general policy of keeping 12 percent of their current operating budget in fund balance.
"Two or three years ago, we backed off our sales tax numbers because those were headed in the wrong direction," said Wyatt. "So we budgeted conservatively there and as Commissioner (Larry) Young says, when I get a surprise, I like it to be a good surprise. So we've got a good surprise in that we've been able to cover sales tax projections, but also been able to net out there."
Wyatt praised county department heads for their conservative budgeting, comparing their operating methods to that of a small-business person.
"Commissioner Messer can speak very well about the decisions he has to make every day in his business," he said. "What we've tried to do is empower these department heads to think like that and make those same types of decisions."
The board was down to three members Monday, with Commissioner Mike Edney and Vice Chairman Bill O'Connor were absent. The remaining three all cheered the news delivered by McLelland and Wyatt.
"I think you've done a great job, all the way down to the last employee that may be on the list," said Chairman Tommy Thompson. "I can tell you I'm proud of you."
"These department heads — and of course I see them out from time to time – we really need to keep commending these guys, along with you guys," agreed Commissioner Charlie Messer. "It's great to be part of a team like this."
"It's a job well done on everyone's part, whether it be the staff or the (county) manager or the Board of Commissioners," said Young.
A major reason revenues came in above budget, McLelland said, was the incredible collection rate in property taxes, both for the current year and for previous years. Both exceeded 100 percent of what was budgeted.
"Our staff did a great job again," he said. "We had in excess of $800,000 in revenues for both those categories."
A jump in sales tax revenues over the previous fiscal year also indicates that the economy is slowly improving, McLelland said.
"We had (seven) months this year that exceeded budget, versus two months in 2011," he said. "We had a good trend going on in March, April, May, June – though April was down, but then we got the July numbers here recently and that's $270,000 over budget, as well. There's a good trend in sales tax revenues happening now and I think we'll continue to see these numbers in the current fiscal year."
Young asked McLelland how the county is doing in collecting reimbursements for Emergency Medical Services. McLelland responded that the county "exceeded budget by a couple of hundred thousand dollars," but said his staff is "going at it as hard as they can."
County departments who were the most frugal with their operating budgets included the Board of Elections (75.2 percent expended), Emergency Management ((75.2 percent), Property Addressing (78.3 percent), Forestry Services (71.8 percent ), Code Enforcement (77.4 percent), Soil & Water Conservation (76.5 percent) and Social Services (70.7 percent).
Messer asked what affect, if any, the county's recent reduction of certain permit and license fees had on revenues. McLelland said the county actually saw $188,000 in excess revenues in the permit and fees category, mainly due to a jump in fees from building inspections.
"Even dropping the fees, I think we still have brought in, with the activity on the building inspection side, we brought in more money than last year," he said.
Emergency Communications to be improved
In other business, commissioners approved spending $627,220 from the fund balance toward a $1.57 million upgrade of the county's emergency communications system, allowing them to upgrade three existing radio towers and adding four more in 2013.
Commissioners also passed a resolution that allows them to finance that amount at a later date and reimburse the general fund.
Last month, commissioners received word that a Federal Emergency Management Agency matching grant they were awarded in March to modernize the county's outdated communications system would require a higher match, due to bids coming in higher than expected.
The main reason given was federal rules have changed the amount of power each radio tower can use to operate, and thus the effective reach of those signals has shrunk.