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County gets thumbs up from auditing firm

It was good news for the Becker County Board on Tuesday, as a report on the 2007 county audit was presented to the commissioners for review.

Colleen Hoffman of Hoffman, Dale & Swenson, Thief River Falls, the independent accounting firm hired by the county to perform the audit, said that once again, the county had received an "unqualified opinion" from the firm.

"That's the best you can get," she said, meaning that the firm had found no serious concerns with the way the county manages its finances.

An unqualified opinion also means the county is able to get a better bond rating --"about half a percent better" -- than many of its neighbors, Hoffman added.

But as always, she continued, there are things to improve upon. One concern is that the county currently does not have a fully consolidated ledger system -- something that six of the nine counties they audit have already implemented, she continued.

"We're bringing the issue up because it's something that has to be done eventually," she said.

Also, Hoffman added, "You need to strengthen the county's policy on change funds ... so everybody knows you don't play games with the petty cash."

Though the county has not had any instances of fraudulent behavior in balancing the petty cash funds, it is important to tighten up the policy for those funds -- as a protection for the county's employees as well as the county itself, she continued.

But despite these minor concerns, Hoffman said, the commissioners should be proud of the staff in Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen's office, because "you're doing a real good job of accurate reporting."

The report

At the close of 2007, the county's governmental funds reported combined ending fund balances of nearly $27 million, an increase of $3.4 million over the previous year.

The fund balance in the General Fund -- the operating fund for the county -- increased by nearly $3 million. Actual revenues exceeded the budgeted amount by $1.2 million, while actual expenditures were almost $4.9 million less than the budgeted amount.

At the end of 2007, the county had undesignated reserves of about $22 million, and plans to use $4 million of that towards the courthouse construction project. Maintaining an adequate fund balance is necessary to provide county services throughout the year.

The majority of the general fund increase, however, was due to unspent courthouse construction bond proceeds. The county's three-part courthouse addition and remodeling project began in the spring of 2007. The total estimated cost of the project is $10.4 million, to be funded by bond proceeds and the use of $4 million in unreserved, undesignated funds. The balance of these funds will be paid out in 2008.

Under new accounting standards that include the value of county buildings, land and property, "the county's overall financial position increased from last year," the report stated. "Total assets increased by $9,654,529 from the prior year, and total liabilities increased by $6,872,251 from the prior year, primarily as a result of the courthouse expansion project and the new bond issue. This resulted in increased net assets of $2,782,278."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454