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Montgomery County reports $20M surplus

Montgomery County reports $20M surplus

Members of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors’ finance committee are calling for some fine t

Members of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors’ finance committee are calling for some fine tuning after realizing estimates on revenue and spending have been grossly inaccurate over the past four years.

The inaccuracies — totaling about $20 million from 2004 through 2007 — led to property owners being taxed for more money than the county government needed.

Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush, chairman of the county board’s finance committee, said it’s clear from his review that officials are spending less money than they request at budget time while getting more revenue than they’re expecting.

According to a report from the finance committee, the county’s 2004 budget anticipated $64,564,280 in revenues, but by the end of the year there was $66,683,859 in revenues, a difference of more than $2.1 million.

The budget called for spending $64,564,280 that year, but department spending totaled only $62,897,307 by the end of 2004 — a difference of over $1.66 million.

The end result in 2004: Montgomery County socked away $3,786,552 by calling for more spending than was actually needed and budgeting for less revenues than were actually realized by the end of the year.

Quackenbush evaluated estimates of revenues and spending for the ensuing years and determined the county made out by $5.74 million in 2005.

The budget was off by $5.46 million in 2006 and by $5.57 million in 2007.

In a finance committee report on the 2009 budget process, Quackenbush said actual performance as reported by the county’s independent auditors resulted in the county taking in about $20 million more than it needed to fund operations.

Quackenbush said he wants to develop a 2009 budget as precisely as possible, knowing that any shortcomings can be filled in with cash the county’s already collected.

“What I’m saying is with the fund balance we have of $20 million, why not take a chance for a year, get it a little closer, and in the meantime you’re not charging the taxpayer,” Quackenbush said.

Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor David Dybas, another member of the board’s finance committee, said when he was working as an accountant, a “budget variance” of between 1 percent and 2 percent was considered acceptable.

Dybas said the year 2004 figures show a budget variance of about 6 percent, which he called “terrible.”

The county’s tax levy is based on the appropriations that are budgeted, Dybas said, so taxpayers are the ones being hurt by the county’s budgeting.

“The good news is we can afford to give no tax increase to all the towns and villages and the city [of Amsterdam]. There is absolutely no reason we should have any tax increase,” Dybas said.

“This is only the start. We only hit the tip of the iceberg and we need to carry forward and hold all department heads and the Board of Supervisors, most importantly the Board of Supervisors, totally accountable for what they’re doing to the people,” Dybas said.

Amsterdam 5th Ward Supervisor Karl Baia said the county government has taken some cost-saving actions that proved successful and increased the fund balance.

The sale of the county’s nursing home saved money on employees, benefits and other costs, Baia said.

The board also agreed to drop its health insurance company and develop a self-insured system. That and switching to CanaRx drugs also saved money, he said.

Baia said he’s noticed some departments have money budgeted for positions that are never filled. Rolling that money over the next year adds to the surplus, he said.

Baia said a finance committee resolution to be reviewed by the county board next week will call for a monthly reporting by department heads detailing what positions are unfilled and why.

“I’m trying to make it a policy to go through the year with our eyes open,” Baia said.

“What we’re really trying to do is close the gaps in these departments so we don’t keep having this money roll over into the fund balance,” Baia said.

County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman on Friday said he is waiting for direction from the county board on specifically what changes will be made to the tentative 2009 budget plan he submitted earlier this month.

Bowerman’s tentative 2009 budget totaling $82.9 million calls for collecting $26.92 million in property taxes, an increase of $792,440 over this year’s tax levy.

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