Audit shows uptick in county's financial picture
Sussex County government continues to be on a strong financial foundation, reported Finance Director Susan Webb at this week’s Sussex County Council meeting.
Council members on Jan. 18 accepted the Audited Financial Statements for Fiscal Year 2010 from Jefferson, Urian, Doane & Sterner, P.A., Certified Public Accountants. The auditors released an unqualified report, noting that the financial statements “present fairly, in all material respects, the respective financial position” of Sussex County as of June 30, 2010.
The county ended the budget year with approximately $618,000 in revenues over expenditures, the first positive gain since slow home sales and the down economy, beginning in 2007, led to three years of deficits that totaled nearly $8 million.
“Given the sobering news of the past three annual audit reports, this is fantastic news,” County Finance Director Susan M. Webb said. “We are cautiously optimistic that brighter days are ahead, thanks in large part to our measured steps to curtail spending, coupled with some glimmers of hope for a rebounding economy.”
She said the county took every advantage of stimulus funding for projects such as sewer, maintains no general fund debt and has kept their “pay as you go” mentality, which has helped them stay on track financially.
They ended the year with $9.4 million, which is on target of having 20 percent of their 2011 budget as undesignated, or “rainy day,” funds.
Webb said realty transfer taxes were still short by $500,000 in 2010 as compared to 2009 but expressed that the county still is in a “pretty positive position going into 2011.”
County Administrator David Baker said the report reflects the continued hard work of county staff to maintain services with fewer resources.
“General fund expenditures were $2.4 million less than the previous year. The County Council and staff deserve tremendous credit for providing County services with reduced staff and fewer funds,” Baker said. “Difficult choices were made reflecting the state of our economy, and this is the product of those efforts.”
Council President Michael H. Vincent added that the audit should continue to give taxpayers confidence in the financial health of the county government and how their money is being managed locally.
“This council has worked extremely hard in support of the staff to make the tough decisions to live within our income and still provide the required services for the residents of the county,” Vincent said. “In these tough economic times, this is good news that all of the efforts of the administration and staff have paid off with a small surplus at the end of a very tough year.”
County Council on Tuesday also discussed comparable runways in relation to those at the county’s airpark in Georgetown. Councilman George Cole had asked at a prior council meeting what the competition was in the area, in trying to justify runway expansion of 1,000 feet, which would come at a cost of around $25 million.
“We are at the low end in terms of runway length,” explained Baker, “at 5,000 feet,” adding that the runway length was similar to that in Cape May, N.J., but less than others in the area. It is more than an airpark in Easton, Md., and relatively similar to one in Millville, N.J., but he added that Georgetown’s airpark has other perks, such as its central location on the Northeast Corridor and lower cost than airports in bigger cities.
Airpark Manager Jim Hickin said those comparisons don’t make the airpark very competitive on a nationwide basis, and, while a longer runway wouldn’t change that much, it would make them more competitive for companies that are already located at the Georgetown airpark, such as PATS Aircraft Systems.
Cole said $25 million was a lot of money to spend on one corporate customer. “It seems like a lot of risk for the money,” he said.
Baker said he believes that the longer runway would not only keep PATS and allow them to expand – which he said was the plan before the economic slump – “but our goal is to attract other aviation-related businesses.”
Cole maintained that he was “still on the fence” regarding “taking the county into the position of borrowing so much money.”
Baker said county staff is trying to come up with “viable ways of funding” such an extension but that they weren’t ready to talk about them yet.
Baker also reported on Tuesday that the Advisory Committee on Aging and Adults with Disabilities would meet Monday, Jan. 24, at 10 a.m. in the West Complex in Georgetown, and a Delaware Housing Workshop at the Milford Senior Center will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 27. Both are free and open to the public.
On Jan. 18, Sussex County Council also approved a grant to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Organization for celebration events, with proceeds going to scholarships for Sussex Central High School students. Grants were also approved for the Laurel Little League, for ground improvement projects, and to Lower Sussex Little League, for equipment upgrades.
To view the complete financial report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, and other information, visit www.sussexcountyde.gov online.