County audit late but clean
by Kellen Moore
Watauga County commissioners received the county's annual audit Tuesday, almost four months late but otherwise clean and positive.
The fiscal year 2012 audit, presented by Kathy Brown of Bryce Holder CPA, affirmed that the county's assets exceeded its liabilities by almost $114.2 million, an increase of about $3.4 million from the previous year.
"I was very pleased with the report, and I think definitely the commissioners were," County Manager Deron Geouque said. "It speaks a lot not just to the management but the county staff and how they were good stewards of the county's money."
The county's unassigned fund balance -- that part of the pool that commissioners may allocate for any purpose -- was about $13.5 million at the end of the fiscal year, or about 28.5 percent of the total general fund, Geouque said.
The state average for similarly sized counties is about 26.3 percent.
The county also held $713,485 in assigned fund balance, which is money set aside for specific projects or financial obligations that must be fulfilled, he said. Last year, that included $650,000 set aside for demolition of the former high school (though not all was used) and about $63,000 for Department of Social Services needs, Geouque said.
The county also had almost $3.1 million in restricted fund balance, a category of money that may be spent only for specific purposes as designated by law or grant requirements, he said.
For the 2012 year, the Board of Commissioners approved general fund appropriations of about $8.2 million but spent only $4.5 million, Geouque said. The cause of the savings was twofold: the county received about $46.1 million in revenues -- more than the $44.3 million budgeted -- and spent only $107.4 million of the $109.3 budgeted, he said.
Of the $4.5 million that was spent. the majority was a $4.1 million transfer to the capital projects fund to set up a debt service plan. Other savings came from "conservative budgeting, limited capital purchases and delayed rehiring for positions which became open during the fiscal year," Geouque wrote in a summary to commissioners.
The decision to refinance the debt on the new Watauga High School also created some savings, he said.
The county's property tax collection rate was 97.7 percent, which was an increase from the 97.2 percent collection rate of the previous year. The average collection rate across the state in 2011 was 96.9 percent.
Watauga County paid down almost $9.1 million of its debt principal in 2012, leaving the total outstanding at $63.6 million.
The county's legal debt limit is a whopping $704.7 million.
"I think that speaks well to the financial shape that we're in and the amount of debt that we have," Geouque said.
Issues of note
Auditors found no material weaknesses in the county's accounting systems or internal controls.
The audit, typically due Oct. 31 of each year, was late to the Local Government Commission this year.
Geouque said the primary reason for the tardiness was a delay in AppalCART's audit, which must be included within the county's.
AppalCART Director Chris Turner said the agency got some of its information to its audit firm later than usual because it was still going back and forth with the state to get issues resolved. The agency also had to make budget revisions at the end of the fiscal year, adding to the delay, Turner said.
Geouque said he remembered only one other time in his 12 years in county government that the audit was late.
Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller said that although the audit was delayed, he was pleased with the results.
"It's an independent analysis of how we're doing," Miller said. "Money, and how we spend the taxpayers' money, is very important to me."