County records $854,000 surplus


Sussex County officials reported this week that the County had “netted a modest $854,000 surplus for County taxpayers,” according to the audit report for the 2012 fiscal year.

Sussex County Council, at its Tuesday, Jan. 22, meeting, accepted the Audited Financial Statements for Fiscal Year 2012 from BDO USA LLP, a firm of licensed certified public accountants. The auditors released an unqualified report, noting the financial statements “present fairly, in all material respects, the respective financial position” of Sussex County as of June 30, 2012. The audit report is presented annually to detail the County government’s finances for the previous fiscal year.

For 2012, Sussex County ended the budget year with $854,029 in revenues over expenditures, the third consecutive gain in as many years. In 2011, the County saw a sharp increase of more than $3.4 million.

County officials have committed approximately $320,000 of the latest surplus to pay for four additional Delaware State Police troopers that were added to the County’s contract for extra policing announced last summer. The remainder will go back to the County’s general fund and await staff recommendations to Council on how to allocate those funds, officials said.

Council President Michael Vincent said the remainder couple possibly be used to help fund Sussex County’s independent libraries and to help with Community Development Block Grant funding.

“I know people need help with leaking roofs, heaters that don’t work, etc., and maybe some of that could go to reducing the number of people on that list,” he said, referring to the waiting list the County’s housing department has for home repairs for low-income residents under the CDBG program.

Responding to Councilwoman Joan Deaver’s statement that drainage was still an issue she heard about frequently from her constituents, Councilman George Cole also asked that they look at funding staff at the Sussex Conservation District, so as not to re-invent the wheel. Councilman Vance Phillips said he would defer to the recommendation of Councilman Sam Wilson, who sits on the Conservation District’s board. Phillips said “maybe that is something we need to budget for, so it’s not a one-time thing and we don’t leave them hanging.”

Wilson said, “George is probably in the right direction, but if we give that money, it has got to be with strings attached.”

The council did not vote this week on what to do with the surplus but instead asked staff to come back to them within 30 days, with plans they could vote on.

In her presentation of the audit report — the final one before she retires this spring — County Finance Director Susan M. Webb offered perspective on the surplus and its relationship to the local economy.

“We’re seeing some small increases and glimmers of growth, particularly in realty transfer tax and building permits, but overall the economy is relatively flat,” said Webb. “If there’s a positive to see in this, I would say it’s that the local economy is holding its own and County government’s finances are solid.”

Actual revenues were $1.4 million above budgeted revenues for 2012, and much of that was due to higher-than-expected revenue in realty transfer taxes — half of the 3 percent levy on all property sales — and an increase in sheriff’s sales prompted by foreclosures. Those gains, however, were offset by reductions in interest income on investments, as well as the late receipt of a State grant that officials said will be recorded in the 2013 audit. In the end, the surplus was whittled down to $854,000.

The realty transfer tax — one of the County’s most significant streams for its general fund — netted $14.3 million in 2012. That was almost even with the previous year, but $700,000 more than the budgeted amount that had been expected in 2012.

Vincent praised the County’s financial team for another positive audit and said the report is yet another example of the County’s consistent financial leadership and stewardship.

“A positive financial statement is always a good thing to have, and no doubt the taxpayers of this county appreciate that. It certainly makes our jobs as Council members easier,” Vincent said. “But it’s not easy work, especially for our staff, to maintain this enviable position year after year. It’s their dedication, persistence and teamwork that helps to keep Sussex County’s finances in check. This Council and the public appreciate that.”

Sussex County has submitted the 2012 audit report to the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada for consideration of its Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting award. The County has received the award for the past 10 years. Webb said she is optimistic the County will receive the same recognition for the 2012 audit report.

The complete report and other information are available on the County’s Web site at www.sussexcountyde.gov.

The council also heard this week about preliminary renovation plans at the County’s Administration Building, which would allow the County to accept payments for many different things in one place, to make it more user-friendly for county residents.