County in the black for 2012

Instead of being in the red as predicted in 2011, the county government was in the black for 2012.

On Thursday, County Executive Greg Edwards announced during the County Legislature Audit and Control Committee meeting that the county government has a $5.8 million surplus for the general fund from the 2012 budget.

”I’m honored to tell you today Chautauqua County is in the black,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the county is almost finished with its 2012 year-end audit, and it indicates a budget surplus. Edwards said 14 months prior to making the 2012 budget, a huge deficit was predicted. However, because county employees found more efficient ways of performing their duties, services were provided to county residents at less expense that resulted in the surplus.

”Each and every time we determined a better, more efficient or more effective way to deliver this work, we have made the necessary changes to capitalize on these improvements,” Edwards said in a news release Thursday.

Edwards said one of the main reasons for the budget winfall is the merging of the Health and Social Services departments into one. The consolidation allowed for staff reallocation, an improvement to the county’s claiming process, realigning the management of the increasing caseload and more focus on the front-end detection system.

The system assures that only those who qualify will receive benefits. Edwards said state officials sent out an accounting statement showing the system has avoided more than $6 million in benefits going to those who don’t qualify. The efforts by the new Health and Human Services Department has reduced the local share of expenses for taxpayers by more than $2.7 million. The department also generated money for the county by taking necessary legal steps to settle a large estate and two lawsuits that increased revenues by $1.2 million.

The Planning and Economic Development Department and the county Industrial Development Agency also completed the sale of the Chadwick Bay Industrial site spec building. The sale resulted in more than $1.8 million of increased income for the county.

Albany continued work to catch up on finishing year-end accounting for programs delivered by the county and released two years of payments instead of one for child welfare services. This added $1.3 million in revenues to the 2012 budget cycle. The county continued to refine its accounting process and accrual of revenues and expenses and increased the amount of revenue it could claim by $1.5 million last year.

”While the process of the economic recovery from the recession has been slow, in 2012 we saw a $200,000 increase in sales tax, $240,000 in mortgage tax and a reduction in community college charge back expenses by $910,000,” he said. ”In addition, our methane to energy plant produced more electricity for a higher price resulting in an additional $280,000 of revenue above the amount budgeted.”

Edwards said through the efforts of all county department personnel the projected deficit for operations produced the $5.8 million surplus for the general fund.

”This surplus will enable us to make the required investments in our infrastructure with existing capital, as opposed to borrowing and paying the interest charges on those debts, and at the same time avoid dramatic tax increases,” Edwards said. ”Hard work by your county team focused on delivering the best services for the best costs has resulted in Chautauqua County finances ending 2012 in the black, and positioned to continue to deliver for the people of Chautauqua County in 2013 and beyond.”