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County in good financial shape, auditor says

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But three county departments were over budget in 2009-10

By Chris Sardelli

Despite three county departments ending the fiscal year over budget, Lancaster County received another good rating during this year’s annual audit.
Sheila Morgan, a certified public accountant with McAbee Talbert Halliday & Co., presented the audit results at Lancaster County Council’s Dec. 13 meeting. Morgan issued the county an unqualified opinion, meaning it was in good financial shape.
State regulations require the county to issue an annual report on its financial status. An independent firm must conduct the audit. Morgan’s firm looked at the county’s funds, expenses, leases and assets, and reported accounting estimates based on uncollected taxes and depreciation of certain items.
During its review, the firm found three county departments had gone over budget – the Voter Registration and Election Commission, which exceeded its budget by $19,602; the coroner’s office, which went over budget by $30,272; and juvenile drug court, which was over budget by $1,455.
County Administrator Steve Willis said the Voter Registration Office was over its budget because of a change in state tax laws that affected how much poll workers are paid.
“As for the coroner’s office, the amount they were over was mostly related to moving into a new building,” Willis said. “And juvenile drug court is already on a pretty tight budget anyway and it just went over.”
The report also showed that expenses exceeded revenues for the county in the 2010 fiscal year, which ended in June.
County Finance Director Veronica Thompson said the county’s general fund, an operating fund, recorded $30,590,169 in revenues for the year, and $30,860,010 in expenditures, a difference of $269,841.
“In other years, we were right under, but we had some decreases in revenue and state aid this year. Plus you can only estimate revenues,” Thompson said. “But $269,000 out of $30 million is pretty good.”
Despite the difference, she said the county still came in $1.7 million under budget for its expenses.
“Even though we spent a little more, we’re still way under our budget,” she said.
The county’s unreserved fund had a balance of $13.9 million.
Thompson said this funding will be available for the county to spend during this fiscal year.
Long-term debt for the county was estimated at about $63.3 million, an increase of about $300,000 from the previous fiscal year. A majority of this figure included bonds for the new county courthouse, as well as bonds to build the new Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department station.
“We added some costs, but we also paid some things down,” Thompson said.
Overall, Thompson said the county has done a good job keeping its costs down and operating within budget.
“We’re trying to maintain with this economy and not overspend,” she said. “The county’s departments have been good about controlling spending and the larger departments, which have more of an effect, have stayed within their budgets.”
Council Chairman Rudy Carter congratulated the county’s financial staff and Thompson for their hard work.
“This just goes to show we’re staying on top of the finances of the county,” Carter said. “We’re probably in as good as shape as any county in the state.”
“This doesn’t mean we can drop our guard, though,” he said. “We need to stay on top of things because the coming year is going to be a worse year for financing.”

Contact reporter  Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416