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Audit shows county fiscal shape good

By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- As was the case at the end of last year, the Warren County Board of Supervisors was presented recently with audit results that indicate the county is in good financial standing.

The supervisors unanimously approved the 2009-10 fiscal year audit after a representative of the firm that conducted it -- Robinson, Farmer, Cox and Associates -- explained findings contained in the report during the panel's regular meeting Dec. 21.

Overall, the county's assets exceeded its liabilities at the close of the fiscal year that ended June 30 by $72,103,882, an increase of $19,144,806. Officials say the increment is largely attributed to the county's decision to switch to a twice-a-year billing format for tax collections, which essentially created an extra one-half year tax billing.

A significant portion of tax collections from the first half of this year will help pay for the county's new 44,370-square-foot public safety building under construction on Skyline Vista Drive. About 39 percent of the county's net assets reflect investments in capital assets, the audit says. The county's governmental funds, not including the school bond construction fund, reported combined ending fund balances of $44,219,466, an increase of $15,098,430 from the prior year. The majority of the balance, $43,814,560, is available for spending.

The county's unreserved general fund balance, meanwhile, totaled $17,208,243, an increase of $1,755,963 from the previous year, according to the audit. Revenue came in under what was initially budgeted thanks to a drop-off in residential construction activity, which subsequently led to fewer building license fees and recordation taxes being generated due to declining home sales. Local sales in general were naturally impacted by an unstable economy, and Warren County's sales tax revenue came in under budget by $261,703, according to the audit.

The county's investment in capital assets, as of June, totals $136,361,577. Those investments include park facilities, a new high school, and recently completed renovations to the old Warren County High School building on Luray Avenue that converted the facility into a middle school. The audit shows that the county's total debt increased by a net of $4,470,214. As of June, the county has total bonded debt outstanding of $120,799,977, according to the audit, which says the county's general obligation bond debt "is backed by the full faith and credit of the county."

In August, Standard & Poor's, a renowned national municipal bond rating agency, raised its issuer credit rating on Warren County from "A+" to "AA-." Officials said the increase was based on the county's strong financial position and growing commercial developments. It is anticipated that the county will be able to attract "additional significant industrial investment" this fiscal year, the audit states.

The audit says Warren County added 165 new jobs last year. As of October, the county has a 6.1 percent unemployment rate, which is lower than the state's unadjusted average of 6.6 percent posted last month, according to the most recent figures released by the Virginia Employment Commission.

Like last year, the supervisors adopted the county's current budget amid duress spurred by state budget cuts and slowed construction in the area. They managed to adopt a more than $83 million budget without having to raise real estate taxes, but furlough days for county employees had to be implemented and lots of other services were reduced. Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony F. Carter said based on the immediate forecast for next year's fiscal planning process, it already looks as if it's going to be "a tough budget year."

"We're going to have some tough decisions to make in the coming year," Carter said. "With the budget [process] starting, I guess, when we get back [from the holiday break], I look forward to any input from the citizens, as far as things they [would] like to see done, as much as possible. ... I think, as in years past, we'll do what we can with the means that we have and stay within those means."

Still, the supervisors were delighted to hear that results from the county's audit verified that, all things considered, the locality is in fairly decent shape financially despite the rigors of today's mercurial economy.

"I feel that the staff, as well as the board of supervisors, are pretty prudent on where they spend the money," Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard H. Traczyk said.
"We spend everything with a lot of forethought. It's not haphazard."

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