Auditor: conservative spending, high tax revenues led to increase in county fund balance

Published 6:50 pm Monday, February 7, 2022

SALISBURY — Rowan County’s general fund balance increased by $18 million last fiscal year due to conservative spending and a boost in sales and property tax revenue, says auditor Tonya Thompson.

Thompson, who works for accounting firm Martin Starnes & Associates, delivered the findings Monday afternoon to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners along with results of the audit of the county’s 2020-21 budget, which started on July 1, 2020, and ended on June 30.

Thompson issued a clean, or “unmodified,” opinion, which means the county’s financial statements are in accordance with accounting principles. A clean opinion is what local governments strive to achieve.

The report found the county’s revenue of $166.6 million far outpaced expenditures of $146.7 million.

The county had a total fund balance of $73.7 million, a significant step up from the previous year’s fund balance of $55.5 million. Revenues increased by $9.9 million, or 6.6%, primarily due to an increase in property and local sales tax. The county collected $92.3 million in property taxes, a $3.1 million increase from the previous year. Sales tax increased from $28.5 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year to $32.2 million last fiscal year, a 13% jump. Restricted intergovernmental revenue was up $3.4 million, mostly from grants and government aid due to COVID-19.

The boost in sales tax revenue likely occurred because people traveled less during the pandemic and spent money locally, Thompson said. She said municipalities across the state enjoyed the bump in sales taxes and cautioned commissioners not to expect the same level of local spending going forward.

While the county brought in more tax revenue, it also spent less last fiscal year. Expenditures decreased by $5.8 million, a 4% drop. Education spending decreased by $1.1 million, or 2%. Public safety was down $108,000. Spending on human services was down $2 million, or 7%. Education, public safety and human services were still the county’s top three expenditures.

“For the most part, spending was cut a little bit due to COVID,” Thompson said. “You had to put some things on pause and be conservative not knowing how the economy was going to turn around based on the COVID pandemic.”

The county’s available fund balance, which is unrestricted money that can be appropriated from the general fund for any purpose, was $54.8 million, or 36.8% of the county’s net expenditures. That’s well over the 16% required of each county by the Local Government Commission. The median for governments like Rowan County with general fund expenditures over $100 million is 32%.

The county decreased its debt service by $4.6 million, or 31%, by paying off school refunding bonds and taking on no major new debt.

The county had one “indicator of concern,” a statutory violation caused by spending money without accounting for it in the budget. The violation occurred because of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board altered the way it requires local governments to record revenues and expenditures instead of the county doing something wrong, Thompson said. Rowan County Finance Director Jim Howden said the county fixed the problem by adjusting its recording methods.

The county’s also submitted its audit after the Local Government Commission’s Nov. 30 deadline. Howden said the county wasn’t able to finish the audit on time due to staffing shortages, COVID-19 complications and a delay in the implementation of new accounting software. He said the county aims to have its audit submitted earlier next year. Rowan County is one of many counties who did not meet the deadline and Howden said there is no penalty.

In other meeting business:

• The board received an update from the staff behind Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Better Jobs for Better Lives initiative. Started in 2017, the program provides short-term job certification training to Rowan County residents to help them improve their career prospects while simultaneously helping local businesses find qualified workers. The three step initiative helps participants refocus, retrain and then re-employ.

The Board of Commissioners allocates $100,000 each fiscal year to provide scholarship opportunities for the program. Better Jobs for Better Lives has served nearly 3,000 Rowan Countians since its inception, providing 650 scholarships worth $282,248 in total.

The number of people served by the program did decrease last year due to the pandemic, but RCCC Vice President of Corporate and Continuing Education Craig Lamb said the number of participants has already started to rebound in 2022. Lamb said healthcare certifications like nurse assistant have been particularly popular lately, as have programs for Commercial Driver’s Licenses, which are required to operate certain machinery or vehicles.

• Commissioners approved a records loan agreement between the Rowan Public Library and Salisbury Newsmedia, LLC, for the library to access the Salisbury Post’s physical archives and digitize the documents, photographs and articles it contains. The archives contain documents dating back to the early 1900s, some of which may not exist elsewhere.

The board also authorized the library to apply for a grant from the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation to assist with the costs of what will be a labor-intensive project.

• Commissioners approved a lease with Piedmont Players Theatre for the community theater organization to rent a space at West End Plaza for the fee of $1 per year. The space the organization will use will be determined in the future.

• The board also approved a lease with The High Road, Inc. for the 2,7000 square-foot space formerly occupied by Tsunami Development Literacy Program at West End Plaza. The High Road, a nonprofit organization, is planning to open a center for veterans. The initial lease term is for one year with four renewals of one year each and the rate is $1 per year.

• The board accepted a $24,499 grant from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission that will be used by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to  purchase a tactical throw phone and 14 rugged push bumpers with fender wraps, headlight coverage and mounted lights to be put on patrol vehicles.

• The board approved the purchase of three Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office at a cost of $94,211. Each truck will cost $31,337 plus $200 each for a color upgrade. The cost of the trucks was accounted for in the county’s current fiscal year budget.

• Commissioner approved an agreement for the Sheriff’s Office to purchase four tasers and body cameras for $32,706. The equipment will be used by the warrant squad.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at

email author More by Ben