In a letter to Scotland County Board of Commissioners Chairman Guy McCook, the Local Government Commission made note of progress made by the county in “a number of areas” during the previous fiscal year.
Dated Feb. 11, 2013, the letter was presented by County Manager Kevin Patterson at the board’s Monday meeting.
Signed by Sharon Edmundson, director of the LGC’s Fiscal Management Section, the letter started by commending the county’s “governing board, staff and citizens” for increasing the fund balance in the general fund by $823,529.
That increase, according to Edmundson, reflected “lower expenditures compared to the prior year as well as expenditures less than appropriations in the current year.”
Edmundson’s praise was accompanied by a word of warning for the county, which she wrote “still has serious financial problems.”
As of June 30, 2012 the county’s available fund balance was $3,562,671, or 9.81 percent – up from 6.72 percent during the preceding year.
“However, your county could still experience sudden cash flow problems if unanticipated expenditures arise or revenues decrease,” Edmundson advised.
In her letter, Edmundson went on to encourage the county to increase its general fund reserves, noting that the fund balance average in “comparably sized” counties was 26.24 percent.
“That would mean that (Scotland County’s general fund balance) would need to be around $12 million,” Patterson told the commissioners Monday evening.
Commissioner John Alford said on Monday that he refused to support any effort to see the county reach available fund balance levels in the 25 percent range.
“I could never support carrying that much fund balance with us having the highest tax rate in the state,” Alford said.
“I would certainly agree with John,” said Commissioner John Cooley. Adding that he had concerns about “someone in the inner belt line in Raleigh making recommendations for Scotland County.
“(25 percent in available fund balance) is not practical for us at all,” Cooley said.
It was also noted by Commissioner Clarence McPhatter that Scotland County carries a unique financial burden which may preclude it from achieving a drastically greater available fund balance in the near future.
“We are the only county left with a school floor in the state,” McPhatter said.
In a response letter dated February 21, Patterson said that the county commissioners share Edmundson’s concerns.
“This is why in creating this year’s budget the board further reduced budgeted revenues and expenditures.”
In an effort to firm up its financial footing, Patterson informed Edmundson that the county also increased its tax rate to meet “unexpected capital needs in the school system.”
Calling the expansion of the general fund a “primary concern” for the commissioners, Patterson also noted the recently reported good news that sales and property tax collections were collectively “exceeding budgeted levels.”
Though he was not in attendance, retiring County Engineer and Planning Director Jim Blackwell was praised for his work with the county by McCook. The chairman said that Blackwell’s oversight was integral to a number of major county projects, including the development of the modern water system and the county recycling center system.
In other business, it appears the long overdue replacement of the roof at the county’s West Covington Street administration building will finally get underway in 2013 after the commissioners approved a bid for the work.
For several years now county employees housed in the building have fought to find and stop water damage during rain showers, and there are a number of discolored, water damaged and mildew ridden areas inside the building because of the chronic problem.
According to Public Buildings Supervisor Mike McGirt, locally-based Thames Construction came back with the most competitive bid, at $128,900 for the work.
$160,000 was initially budgeted.
“Being that Mr. Thames is local and being that he is a taxpayer here I move that we accept the bid,” McPhatter said.
Because several bids were “significantly” greater, there was some concern among the commissioners that the bids were not all for the same work. According to McGirt, one bid was for $341,000.
McGirt reported that all of the competing contractors attending a “scope of work” discussion and simultaneously examined the building.
“And we had the mandatory pre-bid process … because we wanted to make sure we were comparing apples to apples.”