County records $2.4M gain for 2013 fiscal year

According to a report released this week, Sussex County’s finances scored a multi-million-dollar gain in 2013, which officials attributed thanks to ongoing conservative budgeting principles and a strengthening local economy.

The Sussex County Council, at its Tuesday, Jan. 21, meeting, accepted the Audited Financial Statements for Fiscal Year 2013 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, 2013. The financial report is presented annually to detail the County government’s finances for the previous fiscal year.

For the 2013 fiscal year, Sussex County ended the budget year with $2,372,502 in revenues over expenditures — the fourth consecutive gain in as many years. In 2012, the County saw a modest increase of $854,000. The 2013 financial boost was fueled by an uptick in housing-related revenues, including realty transfer taxes, building permits and recording fees, officials said.

County leaders, anticipating the additional revenue when the 2014 budget was adopted last June, have designated the money for a variety of needs, including the community development emergency housing fund, the pension fund and future capital projects.

“The County is seeing an increase in revenues as the economy rebounds,” Finance Director Gina A. Jennings said. “But we remain cautious. We continue to keep our expenses in check. Our operating expenses remain consistent with the years when our revenues struggled.”

According to the report, actual revenues were $2.7 million above budgeted revenues for 2013, 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.

Those gains, however, were offset by reductions in sheriff’s sales prompted by foreclosures. Still, County officials said the reduced revenue from sheriff’s sales is actually a positive turn, as it indicates a strengthening local economy.

The realty transfer tax, one of the County’s most significant streams for its general fund, netted $17.4 million in 2013. That was $3.1 million above the previous year and $4.2 million over the budgeted amount that had been expected in 2013.

Council President Michael H. Vincent on Tuesday praised the County’s financial team for another positive financial report and said the report was yet another example of the County’s consistent financial leadership and stewardship.

“Thanks to our diligent and dedicated staff, Sussex County taxpayers’ dollars continued to be managed soundly and wisely,” Vincent said. “The County recording another positive budget year is a familiar tune, but I’m confident that it’s music to the ears of our constituents. It’s certainly a song that never gets old from my perspective.”

Sussex County has submitted the 2013 financial report to the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States & Canada for consideration of its Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting award. The County has received the award the past 11 years. Jennings said she is optimistic the County will receive the same recognition for the 2013 report.

The complete report and other information are being made available on the County’s website at www.sussexcountyde.gov.