Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Blaine County is in the black

Audit shows strong financial stability


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Even in the face of uncertain economic times, Blaine County's finances remain in the black.

Blaine County ended fiscal year 2010 with a surplus, adding to its assets by more than $677,000, according to a financial audit released by Condie, Stoker & Associates.

"It's not necessarily your job to end up with a positive fund balance," said Curtis Stoker, a partner in the firm. "But for the kind of year we had, for you to end up as strong as you are, I think that's good."

The audit reports that Blaine County's assets exceeded liabilities by a net of more than $50 million, a number that includes investments and the value of county buildings. Stoker said Blaine County's general operating fund balance was a positive $6.2 million, and the total fund balance, which includes the general fund and earmarked levy funds, is about $13 million.

County Clerk JoLyn Drage said in an interview that the general fund balance can be used for unexpected expenditures such as an expensive trial or for building construction costs.

County Commissioner Tom Bowman attributed the surplus to the county's ability to remain flexible in the face of financial challenge.

"[The projection] didn't take into account that we would adapt to the times," Bowman said. "We've been successful in adapting to the constraints in which we are dealt."

Commissioner Larry Schoen said the county made its prudent fiscal policy clear to all elected officials and department heads, which responded by drilling down on expenses.

The only real concern, Stoker said, was the county's reconciliation process. Stoker said that when he tried to reconcile the county's cash accounts with its statements, the numbers were off by about $500,000.

He said it quickly became clear that electronic transfers were causing the problem.

"Before we had electronic transfers, we had no problems," he said.

Now, transfers can be missed or entered inaccurately. Stoker and County Assessor Vicki Dick were able to trace back and reconcile the discrepancies once the problem had been identified.

The county still has one $900 discrepancy, which Dick said had been on the books since a transfer from First Bank of Idaho. The amount was an additional $900 in assets that couldn't be found rather than an unaccounted-for expense, and the commissioners voted to adjust the budget and account for the mistake.

Stoker said the county's reserves and finances were "strong," and urged staying the course on fiscal responsibility.

Schoen said the audit proved the county's commitment to frugality.

"It really sheds some light on that old cliché—if government has money, they'll spend it," Schoen said. "Here in Blaine County we've proven that's not the case."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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