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County chief disproves $50 million claim

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 5, 2012 1:46 PM

Blanket statements that the county has nearly $50 million nestled away in its fund balance are incorrect and do not tell the complete story, Wayne County Commission Chairman John Bell said prior to commissioners' recent approval of the county's $159 million budget for 2012-13.

Once the fund is broken down into its components, the available balance is closer to $14.6 million, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said during a budget workshop.

The fund balance was the target of several Republican speakers at last month's public hearing on the budget. The accusers suggested that the county had much more in reserve than was being claimed and that the excess should be returned to taxpayers.

"This year is going to be interesting because when you get into the audit this year you are going to see a document that is different than it was last year because you are moving into a new system," Smith said during the workshop. "Now you are doing restricted, committed, assigned and unassigned. So they are moving to a more business-type accounting. They are making you account for all of your capital reserves.

"If you look at restrictive fund balance, first of all, that is public schools, which are about $8.3 million. That is part of the sales tax that you are required to hold aside, plus that for debt. Stabilization by statute, which is your 8 percent, is $5.4 million. Law enforcement you have a reserve that is required."

When an officer leaves the sheriff's office, any separation allowance comes from that fund, which currently stands at approximately $149,000, he said.

Another $393,000 is restricted for court facilities, he said.

Those amounts total $14.4 million in the restricted fund, Smith said.

"Then you have committed," he said. "This is the portion of the fund balance that can only be used for specific purposes imposed by the majority of the voting governing board."

Those include revaluation, $880,000; future capital projects, $3.9 million; Wayne Community College, $750,000; and public schools, $1.8 million, for a total of $7.4 million, he said.

"If you look at these you will see that you are almost at $23 million," Smith said. "There was some comment that you have a fund balance of $49.4 million or right at $50 million. That is everything including restricted, committed, assigned and unassigned. If you look at those two, you are then subtracting (the fund balance) down to $24 million to $25 million."

The assigned portion includes donations. For example, some are donations for the Senior Center, animal control and U.S. 70 Corridor Commission and include money people have donated for those programs, he said.

"It is very specific and you have to pull it out," Smith said. "(Donations are) about $407,000. It is the way they are statutorily set or agreed upon when someone said they were donating something into a program. The audit pulls that out and says you must spend it this way."

The unassigned portion of the fund balance is $23.8 million, he said.

"You, as a board, have chosen for nine years to carry a 14 percent county fund balance," Smith said. "That was above your 8 percent which is (another) $4 million. So you have to subtract that from the $23 million. You have the Senior Center at $1.2 million, additional appropriations for the year coming, and these are project lists that I have talked with you about, including jail renovations and other projects that are included in this budget.

"Those will total $3.9 million. If you look at those, that would be an unaudited, estimated unassigned total of $14.6 million is what you have left (in the fund balance)."

The 14 percent has ensured the county has had cash to pay for projects such as the Senior Center, Smith said.