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City audit shows Fibrant in the black; Councilwoman addresses rumors

Salisbury City Council used Tuesday’s annual audit report to highlight, and attempt to dispel rumors about, the city-owned broadband system.

During the portion of the audit presentation about the city’s enterprise funds, it was shown that Fibrant made $229,000 in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

“That’s a big number for us,” Mayor Paul Woodson said.

It’s the first year Fibrant has been profitable since starting in 2010.

In the past, Fibrant was losing millions of dollars a year. But city officials had expected it to at least break even in 2013-2014.

Fibrant’s customer base has grown to over 3,200.

Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell addressed rumors about Fibrant she said have been circulating around the city for years.

“There are rumors in town that say the increase in property tax or other funding is being secretly funneled to make Fibrant look good,” she said.

She asked interim City Manager John Sofley, “Have we channeled money, cash, to Fibrant to make it appear that it’s cash positive?”

Sofley said no, and then Blackwell asked the auditor, Tonya Marshall with Martin Starnes and Associates, if she’d found anything suspicious in her audit. Marshall said she hadn’t.

Asked afterward why she brought up the rumors, Blackwell said, “We can’t kill the rumor.”

She said since the auditor was at the meeting she figured it was the best time to discuss the rumors in public.

“The truth needs to see the light,” she said.

As far as the rest of the audit report, it shows the city’s total fund balance increased by $2.6 million during the fiscal year to $15.8 million. And the available fund balance is $11.1 million, which is 33.5 percent of the city’s annual General Fund expenses.

The state requires municipalities to have a minimum available fund balance of 8 percent of General Fund expenses.

General Fund expenses totaled $32.9 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, about $2.7 million less than was budgeted.

General Fund revenues for the fiscal year were $33.5 million, down 8 percent from the previous year. But Marshall said this is largely due to a change in the way the city reports its finances — administrative charges to other funds are no longer reported as revenues but are instead deducted from the appropriate expense categories.

The city’s outstanding debt decreased by $3 million during the fiscal year to $79.4 million. The amount may seem staggering, but the city’s legal debt limit is $228 million — based on 8 percent of the total assessed value of taxable property within the city.

Mayor Woodson asked Marshall if she’d say the city is “rock solid” financially. She told him the city’s finances are “healthy.”

After the audit report, council adopted an ordinance that will make the intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. and Park avenues, near Cannon Park, a four-way stop.  Currently, only Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue has stop signs at the intersection.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, residents of the neighborhood around Cannon Park said they’d like to see something done at all four intersections around the park.

The city conducted a study that found only one intersection, MLK and Park, should be made into a four-way stop.

The residents said cars speeding through the neighborhood are dangerous, especially for children who play in the park.

Another possible solution presented to council by city staff is putting roundabouts, also called traffic circles, at the intersections.

Council also:

• recessed the meeting until Friday at 2 p.m., when council will meet at city hall to begin looking at applications and résumés for the city manager position.

• adopted an ordinance amending the fiscal year budget to include $9,465 from insurance proceeds to replace a transit bus shelter, trash bin and bench that were damaged in a car accident.

• adopted an ordinance to amend the fiscal year budget to appropriate $6,000 in Police Department asset  forfeiture funds in order to pay for the cost of motivational assembly programs, which police officers participated in, conducted at all of the county’s middle schools and two elementary schools.

Contact reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.

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