Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Though commissioenrs dipped into county savings for $8.5 million to balance the current county budget, little if any of that money has been spent.
In fact, the county is expected to end the current fiscal year with $1.5 million to put back in savings.
That is expected to put the county’s total fund balance at $41.7 million, the highest level in years. Around $20 million of that will be undesignated , meaning it’s available for emergencies or other spending.
It all may sound like fuzzy math, but it involves lots of factors. The major factor is the county never spends 100 percent of its budget.
And as the year goes by, both revenue and spending can increase.
Commissioners ended up appropriating nearly $11 million in fund balance during the current year ó most for capital projects ó sewer lines, jail expansion, an EMS station, for example.
Most of those projects are in the design stage. The money will be carried over to the 2008 budget.
For the past several years, the county has spent about 94 percent of its total budget.
In a $128 million budget, that means nearly $8 million won’t be spent, according to Leslie Heidrick, county finance director.
It’s a bit like building a piggybank into the budget ó knowing there will be a large chunk that won’t be spent.
The 2008 budget, now under discussion, is built on using $5.5 million of the county’s fund balance to avoid a tax increase.
If the spending trend holds, the county won’t spend much or any of it in the coming year.
“Our fund balance has grown every year for the past six years,” Heidrick said.
Having a healthy fund balance keeps the county’s financial rating in good standing.
Officials say most counties the size of Rowan maintain a n undesignated fund balance equal to 20 percent of the annual budget or higher.
A decade ago the county’s fund balance was barely at the minimum 8 percent level recommended by the Local Government Commission. Heidrick recalled the balance to a point between $4 million and $5 million when she came to work for the county.
Newton Cohen, former long time chairman of the Board of Commissioners, has often referred to the problem of trying to get a good interest rate on school bonds when the county had meager savings. Cohen said lenders and rating companies didn’t want to talk to the county.
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Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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