Archived Story

Berrien County to begin publishing financial info in online ‘dashboard’

Published 9:39pm Thursday, September 22, 2011

ST. JOSEPH — Whether they needed to do it or not, Berrien County officials are glad they developed a county dashboard and citizens’ guide to financial health.
The state is requiring all local governments who receive profit sharing revenue from the state to publish those materials. All cities, villages and townships must comply, as a part of Gov. Snyder’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program.
County Administrator Bill Wolf said he is unsure if that means counties need to do the same.
“Whether it’s mandated or not, this is a great document,” said Berrien County Board Chairman Dave Pagel. “When I was first elected county commissioner, everyone asked me, what do they do? This shows a little bit of what we do.”
Regardless if it’s required or not, the county will publish both the dashboard and the citizens’ guide to its website this week, and county commissioners got a report from Financial Services Director Doug James about the materials designed for governmental transparency.
James said the materials are designed to “be easily understood by the average citizen.”
“It outlines how government uses its money, where we’re headed as a county, how taxpayer money is spent and the current fiscal health,” James said.
James said while the county’s population has dropped by more than 4,000 in the past year, the county has been able to maintain strong financial standing.
“Berrien County has a longstanding commitment to financial discipline,” James said.
That has allowed the county to “weather the storm” during challenging economic times, he said. In fact the county was able to increase its net assets for primary government by $1.6 million in 2010.
The materials included the following key statistics:
• County unemployment rates are higher than the state and national trend but have leveled off the past two years at 12.3 percent
• The number of government employees has dropped from more than 740 to 691 since 2007. That is 4.4 employees per 1,000 residents.
• The state requires a general fund balance between 20 and 40 percent of a full year’s expenditures. At the end of 2010, Berrien County had a fund balance of $14.9 million or 29.2 percent of the 2011 budget.
“We’ve actually improved our position in our fund balance the past several years,” James said.
• The debt for primary county government at the end of 2010 was $44.3 million or 0.5 percent of the equalized valuation, which is well below the state-mandated limit of 10 percent.
To review the documents in their entirety, visit www.berriencounty.org. They will be posted this week.

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