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Belated audit report finds county flush with revenue

An audit report that came three months later than usual was nevertheless well worth the wait for Alamance County’s board of commissioners.

From its robust revenue picture to its auspicious take on the county’s savings, this unusually belated financial review left little for the commissioners to criticize when they finally received its results last Monday.

Due to the need to account for the county’s multimillion cache of pandemic relief funds, the audit for this past fiscal year remained incomplete when it would have normally been shared with the commissioners in January. The county even had postpone the audit’s submission to the state government, which demanded an explanatory letter that commissioners signed off on last Monday night.

But the actual results of the audit were another matter entirely.

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According to Elsa Watts, an auditor with the county’s Hickory-based firm of Martin, Starnes & Associates, the county’s general fund took in nearly $182.7 million during the past fiscal year – an increase of almost $8.8 million over the previous financial cycle. In the meantime, the general fund’s outlays of $155.9 million amounted to a decrease of roughly $4 million from the prior year’s total.

Auditor Elsa Watts

Much of the resulting surplus of $16.8 million ultimately found its way into the general fund’s financial reserves. According to Watts, the fund’s accumulated savings, or fund balance, jumped from $57.0 million to $71.5 million during the course of the year. The county also added nearly $11.2 million to the portion of the fund balance that’s deemed “undesignated” – or which hasn’t already been earmarked for some particular use.

According to the county’s finance director Susan Evans, the undesignated fund balance rose 15.37 to 22.94 percent of the general fund’s annual outlays thanks, in large part, to this infusion of readily-useable revenue. Evans went on to remind the commissioners that the county has, for some time, had a self-imposed goal of 20 percent for its undesignated savings.

“This is the first year that our fund balance has hit 20 percent and even gone above and beyond that number,” the finance director proceeded to inform the commissioners. “This gives us the opportunity to transfer this $4.5 million into the capital reserves.”

At Evans’ behest, the commissioners agreed to transfer the savings in excess of 20 percent into the county’s capital reserves.

The commissioners also voted to renew their contract with Martin, Starnes & Associates after Evans recommend the Hickory-based outfit over three other firms that had bid on the county’s annual audit. Evans informed the commissioners, under the new agreement, that the incumbent contractor’s fee would remain at previous level of $92,700 a year.

According to the finance department, the county had received lower bids of $88,000 and $88,620 from the auditing firms of Gould Killian and RH. The county also received a fourth bid from Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams & Company in the amount of $99,500.

In its final assessment, the finance department ranked the submission it got from Martin, Starnes & Associates above the other three bids based on criteria other than cost – such as the quality of each firm’s proposal and the quality of its staff.

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