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Grayson finances go from 'almost broke' to stable

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Audit shows county’s financial situation improved dramatically over past five years

By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — After being declared “almost broke” in 2009, Grayson County’s financial health improved to stable condition in 2013, according to an auditor’s report presented during the board of supervisors’ February meeting.
The most telling example: County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said that in 2010, Grayson only had enough money to last one day in its operating reserves. In 2013, reserves could have lasted the county up to two months.

Deanna Cox of Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates of Blacksburg said there were “no surprises” in her five-year report — other than a positive change.
In her summary of revenues and expenditures, Cox said the most important and impressive figure was the county’s growth in operating expenditures, which only rose by 1.18 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile, total revenues grew by 7.38 percent.
Grayson had a fund balance of only $291,000 in 2009, when it should have been between 10-20 percent of expenditures. In 2013, however, the balance stood at $8.2 million, which Cox said was about 15 percent of expenditures.
“I haven’t seen Grayson County this financially stable in a long time,” said Cox. “You all have done a good job.”
Despite the good news, Cox cautioned the county not to “get too comfortable,” as it will see major increases in loan payments in 2015, namely $17.4 million in liabilities incurred by the school board. New accounting rules will also cost the county about $7 million to go toward Virginia Retirement System liability for county employees and school personnel.
In preparation for the impending debt increase, County Administrator Jonathon Sweet said the county will look to incorporate a debt reduction plan in its 2015 budget, in which the county will pay off some of its long-standing loans to cut back on interest.
The county’s per capita debt of $1,002 is well below the state average, Cox added.
The county gets most of its revenue from property taxes and intergovernmental transfers like federal and state funds, and it spends the most on education and public safety.
For areas of improvement, Cox recommended upgrading software in the county’s financial offices to improve accuracy and reliability. She also suggested division of duties between the treasurer’s and county administrator’s offices in the utility billing process.
Sweet assured Cox that the county was already considering and looking into the recommended software improvements. “I think the time is right for those improvements,” he concurred.
Sweet credited the work of the board of supervisors and county staff for the economic turnaround.
“There’s not another jurisdiction at this tax rate – it’s just unheard of,” said Sweet. “I think we really need to emphasize the work of all our departments for saving nickels and providing the greatest level of service for the lowest cost.”