Archived Story

‘Snapshot in time’ not enough to build roads

Published 9:43pm Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My reaction when I saw Dave Taylor’s March 29 letter to the editor was there the former county commissioner goes, stirring the pot again. Taylor suggested that with $23 million in unrestricted fund equity, the county could improve roads without needing voter approval for millage.
Now, I’m not an accountant, but I know some, and Becky Moore, the county finance director, is adept at explaining this in terms even a reporter can understand. Equity is not cash, but assets minus liabilities. If you own a $200,000 house and owe $150,000, you have $50,000 equity.
The $23 million shown in the audit Sept. 30 was a “snapshot in time,” when the general fund had $7.7 million. If you get paid Friday and receive $500, you likely no longer have $500 by Wednesday or Thursday after paying the mortgage and buying groceries. The equity consisted of $5.5 million cash. The cash low point reached last year on Aug. 31 was $1.3 million.
The county collects $8 million in property taxes starting in August and is still pretty flush from the check at the end of September, but that annual check must tide Cass through to the following summer.
Cass County Medical Care Facility (MCF) contributed $2,952,375 to the $23 million. But that’s not county taxpayer money to be spent. It’s generated from charges to residents. With Medicare scrutinizing what it pays, rates are being reduced. Profits of $100,000 halfway through the year compare to almost $600,000 for all of last year.
Another big chunk of the $23 million is the delinquent tax revolving fund, $8,877,751. The county buys all delinquent property taxes, which in March amounted to almost $4 million. It would mean borrowing and paying interest if there isn’t a large enough reserve to make local units whole.
That fund also supports Law and Courts Building maintenance and two county positions. Also, three bonds were just refinanced to maintain Cass’ AA rating — second highest after AAA. Townships rely on that county rating for their borrowing.
“We make everybody whole with the cash, then basically hold the IOU for up to three years until that property is either paid or goes into foreclosure,” Moore said.
GASB, the Government Accounting Standards Board, changed definitions for words such as “unrestricted,” making category lines more subjective.
While not a large amount, $3,147 designated for Soldiers and Sailors has come down from the Veterans Administration through the state to provide assistance and is not viewed locally as “unrestricted.”
The public improvement fund of $279,000 is expected to be wiped out by Sept. 30 for repairs such as the $110,000 cost to modernize the 1899 courthouse elevator.
Another large item, $1,599,069, falls under the self-insurance pool.
County government, the MCF, Woodlands and Council on Aging employees and employer matching funds contribute that sum for health insurance.
It’s not tax dollars sitting there to be redirected to roads.
“It’s kind of like your escrow at the bank for property taxes,” Moore said. “The bank withholds so much a month. Then, when your property taxes come due, it’s there to be paid. Most of that $23 million is not money, it’s equity, and it’s not cash sitting there, but will be used for something in the next 12 months.”

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