Press-Republican

Local News

November 27, 2013

State audit scolds Essex County

ELIZABETHTOWN — The State Comptroller’s Office is scolding Essex County lawmakers for allegedly using too much fund balance in the last three yearly county budgets.

The report said the financial condition of the county has declined over that time period as a result.

“This occurred because the board adopted budgets for the general fund that were not structurally balanced,” the audit says.

“Instead, the (County Board of Supervisors) routinely relied on appropriating significant amounts of fund balance to finance operations.”

$12.3 MILLION IN 3 YEARS

County Manager Daniel Palmer responded that cuts in state and federal aid, a 2 percent tax-levy cap and increasing state mandates have made it difficult to balance any budget without resorting to use of available fund balances.

Essex County used $12.3 million in unexpended fund balance to reduce the tax levy for the years 2010, 2011 and 2013, the audit says.

REDUCED USE

The county has so far proposed a 2014 budget with a 15 percent tax-levy increase, but it uses little of the fund balance, in keeping with the state’s suggestions.

Supervisors have also begun the process of overriding the tax cap so they can increase the amount raised by property taxes more than the 2 percent limit.

A special meeting on the budget is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown. It is open to the public.

PAYROLL CONTROL

The audit also criticized the county for allegedly having lax internal controls over payroll.

“As a result, we found that employees were both over- and underpaid, and that employees’ leave accrual records were not properly maintained.”

TIPPING FEES

The report also hits on allegedly insufficient fees charged to towns for the county solid-waste-disposal system in the previous three years covered by the audit.

The tipping fees were again not increased in the budget for 2013, resulting in a $347,000 deficit, the audit claims.

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