Sullivan County enters new fiscal year
The Sullivan County Board of Commissioners moved forward with housekeeping items, such as funds for new traffic lights, and checked over the financial records for fiscal year 2018, which ended in June.
At the meeting held Monday in Newport, county manager Derek Ferland presented the draft financials review for 2018, which was accepted by the board. However, there was some discussion over the use in fiscal 2019 of unassigned fund balance from previous years.
Ferland said the budget reduced the fund balance — unused money carried from one year to the next — by about $200,000. “We'll be close to breaking even on revenue,” he said. Fund balance assigned for projects was projected to be $466,110, while monies assigned for reserves was $571,000.
Later in the meeting, those fund balance assignments came up. The law requires that large expenditures of public money be reviewed by the public or their elected representatives, and voted upon. Assigned funds have been approved for a particular purpose (e.g., office equipment) and can generally not be used for a different purpose without being subject to another vote.
Commissioner Jeffrey Barrette had questions about Ferland's use of the fund balance assignments. Ferland submitted a project list of fund balance assignments to the commissioners. The list includes such things as deposits to a reserve fund for vehicles, fixing the sugarhouse roof, and money for inmate health care.
Barrette focused on two projects put out for bid — carpeting in the Newport Woodhull County Complex and fixing the sugarhouse roof — as well as an item for reserve of $80,000 for county employees' healthcare, that moved funds carried over from fiscal year 2018.
“I've always understood it as a re-appropriation,” said Barrette. “You can't just add a new amount.”
The two projects with RFPs (requests for proposals) had funds assigned to them although the bids haven't been accepted yet. Originally, the sugarhouse roof had $9,500 assigned to pay for repairs, but Ferland remarked, “No one wants to touch it for that amount of money,” so he had raised it to $15,000.
“We can't assign more than we appropriate,” said Barrette. “Assignments can be a little slippery in and of themselves, but this just feels funny to me.”
Ferland said he had asked auditors to look at the books and they hadn't objected. “If I'm screwing up, I'll learn.”
Those three items were adjusted accordingly, with the sugarhouse roof bid assignment staying the same ($9,500), the Woodhull carpeting assignment lowered to $29,500 from $30,000, and the money to the employee healthcare reserve noted differently ($80,000 assignment not including $60,000 that had been carried over from a previous year).
In other business, the commissioners approved upgrading the county's deed recording software, which was designed before the age of cyber security. They established a capital reserve fund to upgrade some of the oldest traffic lights in Claremont, and approved a grant application to help with the TRAILS project at the jail.
The town of Unity is undergoing some road work, which will entail cutting around 100 trees to widen the road. Ferland said the project manager is asking if they can use a parcel near the intersection of Unity Center Road, by the Beagle Club, as a staging area. The highway workers also need a place to dump the tree stumps, and it had been proposed that the cut trees be given to the workers as partial payment.
In response to questions from the commissioners, Ferland suggested going to a Unity select board meeting, which he plans to do. What to do with the stumps, etc., can be decided with Unity.
-- GLYNIS HART