GARLAND — In a matter of minutes, the town’s Board of Commissioners approved its 2012-13 budget, bringing to a close a fiscal year that has seen sweeping changes among the town’s staff and board and finances scrutinized from every angle.
The board has met nearly two dozen times in the last five months in everything from regular sessions to emergency meetings, special-called sessions to weekend budget workshops. Modifications to rates and fees have been made along the way, so not much work was left to be done when the board met Wednesday.
Members unanimously approved a budget totaling $860,085, which includes a General Fund of $444,395, a Water and Sewer Fund of $360,600 and a Powell Bill Fund of $30,090, along with N.C. STEP (Small Towns Economic Prosperity) program planning funds of $25,000. The tax rate will remain at 72 cents per $100 valuation of taxable property, based on an estimated valuation of $18 million and a 95 percent rate of collection.
The $860,085 is a large increase over the approved 2011-12 budget of $705,978, which has since been amended over and over to rectify the finances. That work is still being done as part of an ongoing audit.
The huge difference in the budgets is due in large part to the Powell Bill being separated from the General Fund and utility charges being raised significantly to save the fund from losing money, and the town’s system from going under. Utility charges alone are expected to generate $318,100 in revenue in 2012-13, where just $182,928 in such revenues was budgeted for 2011-12.
There were no public comments during Wednesday’s public hearing on the 2012-13 proposed budget. Commissioner Ralph Smith made a motion to accept the plan and Commissioner Haywood Johnson seconded. The vote was unanimous.
“The budget ordinance for the town of Garland has been adopted,” said Mayor Winifred Murphy. “Thank you very much.”
It has been a long process.
A Feb. 7 letter from the N.C. Department of the Treasurer detailed a diminishing fund balance and a failed pre-audit process in which expenditures exceeded allocations. State officials also noted “a serious financial weakness” in the Water and Sewer Fund, bank accounts that were not being reconciled in a timely manner and the lack of filing semi-annual reports of deposits and investments.
In response to those concerns, Garland commissioners met in numerous budget workshops and held several special-called meetings, ultimately approving a financial plan outlining how it intended to control expenditures and operate within its available resources. An accompanying corrective action plan addressed specific material violations that encompassed installment purchase contracts, the Water and Sewer Fund and bank account reconciliation. The town has worked closely with the Local Government Commission since that time.
The town board initiated a complete overhaul of existing staff, who have since been replaced by a new clerk and deputy clerk. Along the way, the mayor and another commissioner resigned, which resulted in Murphy taking the mayoral helm and two others, recently unseated commissioner Johnson and newcomer Matthew Register, took their places on the board.
Along with internal controls, the town has transitioned its banking services, cut expenditures, raised trash collection rates by $3 and hiked water and sewer rates significantly to keep the fund afloat. The board has also examined the status of a number of contracts — law enforcement coverage, mowing and water and sewer operations among them — in an effort to seek out savings.
Even though the 2012-13 has now been approved, the town is still working with independent auditor Scott Bridgers and was expected to meet again briefly Thursday to approve budget amendments in an effort to rectify the 2011-12 budget before officially moving into the next fiscal year.
“We’re still in July (2011) and trying to make things match,” said Murphy. “We can’t match things up and rectify the records. This has been a very tedious process, a very complicated process.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.