12/23/09 — Duplin commission gets results of audit

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Duplin commission gets results of audit

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 23, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE - Duplin County did not have to dip as deeply into its fund balance this year as previously expected, the board of commissioners learned Monday.

"We're $2.7 million better off than we would have been," said Dean Horne, an auditor with the firm of Pittard Perry and Crone said.

Horne, one of four independent auditors who worked on the report, briefed the commissioners on the firm's findings at their last meeting of the year.

The commissioners planned to use about $4 million in fund balance money this year, but only used about $1.2 million of that amount, he said. The county used "pretty good management" of resources, Horne said.

However, the fiscal year is not up yet, and the fund balance might drop significantly in 2010, he warned. The fund balance has remained fairly stable at about $11 million over the past three or four years, but is on target to drop to $8.3 million in 2010, Horne said.

Keeping a positive fund balance through prudent use of the money is important, Commissioner Zettie Williams commented.

"Each year if we use less and less, it will keep that fund balance," she said.

The report also cited a worrying decrease in the county's overall worth, Commissioner David Fussell said.

"Why are we worth less?" he asked.

According to the report, the county is worth about $693,000 less than it was in June 2008, Fussell said.

The change is at least partly due to natural depreciation of county property, Horne said.

Fussell also drew attention to the county's spending policies. Duplin County is spending more money than it makes, he said.

"There is a crisis at hand, and a lot of people on this board want to put on pink glasses and not see it," Fussell said. "You can see the light in the tunnel of the freight train coming the other way."

If the county was operating as a business, it would immediately be addressing ways to cut money from its budget, he said.

"We've got to stop if, and we've got to stop it now," Fussell said.

The auditors found the county to be in compliance with state and federal regulations, Horne said.

In other business, Commissioner Frances Parks introduced a motion regarding how to distribute money from a proposed quarter-cent fire tax. The tax increase, which might go on the May ballot, would generate about $822,000 for the county's fire departments.

"I want us to do all we can ... so the public will support it," she said.

But her motion to distribute the money equally among all fire departments, and for commissioners to continue allocating the same amount of money as they presently do to the fire departments, failed to pass a vote.

"I think we're going to have a serious problem deciding how to distribute," Ms. Williams said about the issue.

Board of Education Chairman Reginald Kenan appeared before commissioners during the comment period to make a statement regarding the school board's Dec. 15 facilities meeting. The school board members voted that night 3-2 to approve consolidating several schools, including North Duplin Junior/Senior High School, after board member Willie Gillespie left the meeting for what Gillespie later said were medical reasons.

Kenan did not know about Gillespie's situation, and "the meeting had to go on," he said.

Gillespie previously stated that did inform Kenan about the issue.

Commissioner Reginald Wells later commented on the commissioners' own policy of what board members must do if they need to leave the room. The board consensus was to ask before leaving, Chairman Cary Turner said.