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Northampton faulted for inflating budget numbers

Saturday, May 11, 2013
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— The state Comptroller’s Office is calling for more attention to detail in the town of Northampton, where budget estimates have been off by hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past four years.

According to an audit released Thursday, a comparison of estimated spending and actual spending showed a variance of $364,870 in 2009. Spending in the general fund that year was budgeted at $750,859, but actual spending of $572,622 reflected a difference of $178,237.

“The Board has consistently overestimated expenditures for the town’s major operating funds,” the audit states.

The variance was even greater in ensuing years. It rose to $488,521 in 2010, $584,053 in 2011 and $585,346 in 2012, for a total of $2,022,790 worth of inaccurate estimates over the four-year period. Estimates for revenues between 2009 and 2012 were similarly off, with a total variance of $1,283,019.

The fact that the budgeted figures were so far off means taxpayers were pumping more money into the town than necessary, leaving a fund balance considered excessive.

“Consistently including unrealistic revenue and expenditures estimates in town budgets can be misleading to taxpayers and ratepayers,” the audit states. “Furthermore, the board is unable to effectively manage financial operations when its annual spending plans are based on unrealistic and unreliable estimates. As a result of these continuous variances, fund balances in some funds have increased to excessive levels.”

The town had a budget of about $1.9 million for 2012.

A comparison of the excess revenue in different budget funds shows the town was holding between 40 percent and 103 percent of the total money needed in different funds for the upcoming year. For example, the townwide general fund had a surplus of $359,225 in 2009 — 46 percent of the total amount needed for 2010.

The greatest discrepancy in terms of fund balance was in the sewer district fund, where a surplus of $223,358 in 2012 reflected 103 percent of the amount of money that fund requires in 2013, according to the audit.

Town Supervisor Linda Kemper did not return a call requesting comment, but in a formal response to the state Comptroller’s office, Kemper said the town is working to correct several issues auditors identified.

She notes, however, that excessive fund balance may not be a bad thing at this point. The town is expecting to lose approximately $100,000 in sales tax revenue because a Wal-Mart store is relocating from the town of Johnstown to the city of Gloversville, Kemper writes in the town’s response. The move will cut into the amount of sales tax revenue shared by Fulton County towns outside the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville.

“This will seriously deplete our fund balances within the town,” Kemper wrote.

The town is also debt-free, Kemper wrote.

“We feel that the town has been diligent in its spending and accountability to the taxpayers,” Kemper said.

 
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