Kent County has budget surplus


    Kent County’s 2009 general operating fund will finish the year with a surplus, if the audit supports the preliminary figure released last week. The general fund, which pays for most county services, closed the year with revenues topping expenses by nearly $800,000.

    “That would be the first operating surplus since 2001,” said County Fiscal Services Director Steve Duarte.

    The revenue total of $166.8 million wasn’t created by a sudden windfall of tax dollars. The surplus came from a handful of transfers from other funds to the general fund — the most notable being a shift of $3.2 million from the capital improvement fund. That transfer pushed back a number of projects the county planned to undertake last year to solidify the fiscal status of the general fund.

    “It was not without pain that we got to that number,” said Duarte of the surplus.

    As for this year’s general fund, total revenue to it was $27.7 million for the first quarter — up by 4 percent compared to the same period last year. But, again, revenue from property taxes wasn’t the reason behind the increase; that source was down by 44 percent from last year. A $4.6 million transfer from the county’s delinquent tax fund to the general fund largely accounted for the increase in revenue. This year’s transfer was $1.6 million higher, or 53 percent more, than last year’s $3 million shift.

    At the end of the first quarter, Duarte said the county’s total cash reserves for the general fund was at $59.3 million and was down by roughly 10 percent from the same period in 2009. The county’s reserve can cover 97 days of operations today. A year ago, the reserve was large enough to pay operating costs for 111 days.

    Duarte said by August the fund’s cash reserve will likely fall by a third to about $40 million and won’t be built back up until September when property-tax receipts come to the county. “Whatever we’re thinking about doing with money, we need to look at this,” said County Commissioner Richard Vander Molen.

    As this year’s budget now stands, revenues to the general fund are pegged at $165 million and expenses are listed at $168 million for a projected deficit of $3 million. But Duarte was optimistic the outcome wouldn’t be that disastrous. “We think we’ll end up doing better than that,” he said.

    He based much of his optimism on general fund spending for the first quarter, which was down by almost $4 million, or 11 percent, compared to last year’s first quarter.

    At the end of the first quarter this year, the general fund posted a deficit of $3.7 million. Through the first three months of last year the shortfall totaled $8.8 million.

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