Audit: York County finances ‘healthy’

jzou@heraldonline.comJanuary 8, 2014 

— An independent audit of York County’s finances for the past fiscal year has yielded a solid bill of health, according to accountants who combed through the county balance sheet last month.

“Your county does a real good job of keeping track of its dollars,” Kevin R. Madden told the York County Council on Monday night during a regularly scheduled meeting. Madden is a certified public accountant with Greene, Finney & Horton, a Maudlin-based firm that specializes in governmental audits.

The audit looked at major county transactions and sampled individual funds for a closer look. Madden said the audit showed a “healthy fund balance” and revealed no inconsistencies when it came to reporting of federal grants or other awarded monies.

At the same time, Madden suggested the county take a closer look at longer-term liabilities associated with staffing and consider utility rate increases.

In keeping with state and federal guidelines, the county hired a firm to conduct an independent audit of the county’s finances for this past fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The county solicits bids for a new auditing firm every three years to ensure that finances are thoroughly and accurately assessed by a fresh third party.

For the past fiscal year, the county’s total general fund balance was $69 million, which is the difference between total assets and liabilities. A fund balance can cover unanticipated costs due to emergencies, make up shortfalls and help the county negotiate for better interest rates from creditors.

Top expenses for 2013 included public safety, which cost nearly $29 million, or more than a third of county expenditures. Other government costs, which include the court system and other county administrative offices, amounted to $30 million.

The county collected $52 million in taxes and $12 million from licenses, fines and permits. General fund revenues for the past fiscal year were on par with that of 2012.

Changes to benefits, utility rates?

While overall day-to-day operations are in good shape, Madden encouraged the county to start addressing longer-term liabilities that may adversely affect credit ratings.

Like all counties statewide, York County must fund Other Post Employment Benefits, or OPEB, which covers government retiree health care. The York County government was the county’s ninth top employer this past fiscal year with close to 1,000 full-time staff.

While the county established a $2 million trust in 2009 to partially fund the benefit and has paid an additional $1 million annually since then, retiree benefit costs continue to grow at a rate of $5 million annually.

As of June 2013, the county has a total $20 million unfunded OPEB liability. Current law doesn’t require governments to fully fund the benefit upfront, but covering a larger portion of the costs annually is encouraged.

Similar reporting for the county’s pension fund will start in 2015, and the shortfall is expected to be even higher than that of OPEB.

Chairman Britt Blackwell said the council may consider cutting back on employee benefits as a way to lower overall liability. Blackwell called benefit reductions a “reality of our times.”

The county would most likely grandfather benefits that were already promised to existing employees, according to staff who have started taking a look at potential cutbacks. Ways to drive down costs could include higher-deductible plans or reducing benefits for future employees.

The county will also consider water and sewage rate increases. Rates were last raised in 2002, but the infrastructure has required significant upkeep since then.

New rate increases likely will go into effect once the county’s partnership with the city of Rock Hill on the Catawba River water line has been completed.

The partnership will reduce the county’s reliance on water from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilties Department.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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