Political notebook: Rowan’s latest audit shows strong financial position
Published 12:10 am Saturday, December 13, 2014
Rowan County’s most recent audit dispels any rumors the county might dip below an 8-percent fund balance — the minimum suggested by North Carolina’s Local Government Commission.
The fiscal year 2014 audit lists several different fund balance numbers. Terms describing the various numbers include: combined, total, available, unassigned and restricted. Each and every number comes with a different dollar amount and percentage. It can get confusing rather quickly.
A part of the reason for the fund balance being significant in the audit is a $3.4 million purchase by county commissioners — the former Salisbury Mall. Shortly after the purchase, some criticized county commissioners for using the county’s savings account as a means to pay for the former mall, now West End Plaza.
When asked, County Manager Aaron Church said the fund balance only partially works like a savings account. For example, some parts of the fund balance are assigned to a specific departments, such as law enforcement.
The fund balance came up again in discussions between the Local Government Commission, a regulatory agency over local government entities, and county commissioners when a loan application was still pending. County officials sought to replenish the fund balance with loan money. A bit extra was included in the loan for mall renovations.
The portion that would directly relate to the LGC’s 8-percent minimum is available fund balance, according to finance director Leslie Heidrick. The available balance number sits at 19.5 percent. But, the word available sounds awfully similar to unassigned, which is another figure listed in the audit.
Both available and unassigned sit above the required minimum.
With the audit being presented to commissioners Monday, the fund balance only raised more questions for one of the primary groups opposed to the mall’s purchase. La Resistance founder Todd Paris essentially called the previous group of commissioners liars after finding out about the latest fund balance.
“It looks like La Resistance was right all along,” Paris said. “The Tea Party Commission didn’t need that loan. They were just trying to put a mortgage on the mall for more than it was worth, so the new commission couldn’t sell it.”
When asked, Pierce clarified conversation that took place between the LGC and commissioners.
“It’s not about falling below the 8 percent; It’s about getting a better interest rate,” Pierce said. “So, when those commission candidates signed that letter and sent it to the LGC, what they did in effect was cause the citizens of Rowan County to have to borrow money at a higher rate because we weren’t able to replenish our fund balance.”
The loan application and mall purchase occurred before the most significant part of the general election. The mall wasn’t the top issue in the election. Nonetheless, it was highly politicized. The political nature of the loan and mall was even cited in the county’s audit as a response to the only finding. Because the county dropped its loan application, the fund balance was never replenished, which violated North Carolina’s General Statutes.
In the response to the finding, Heidrick wrote: “Due to the political climate in the county, staff of the Local Government commission opted not to place consideration of approval of an installment financing contract before the commission in June 2014.”
The finding isn’t emblematic of a problem with Rowan County’s finances. Church said one finding on an audit is equivalent to receiving an A on a report card.
“The audit reflects sound fiscal management and sufficient internal controls,” Church said.
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Education reporter Jeanie Groh contributed to this report.