The financial future of Warren County is brighter today than it was two years ago, according to its financial advisor.
“I think you are on a really good path,” said Scott Gibson, county financial advisor with Cumberland Securities, who gave a special presentation to the Warren County Commission on Monday night.
In 2019, he informed county government it was on a path that was not financially sustainable and urged commissioners to consider a property tax increase to generate additional revenue.
“You have a very low tax rate,” said Gibson, two years ago. “You’ve gone 16 years without a tax increase. For the first 12 or 13 years of doing that, I think it worked out fine. The last two to three years it’s gotten to the point where we’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’d build up a fund balance in one fund and then move it somewhere else to plug the hole. The problem now is we have holes all in the budget.”
In 2019, commissioners broke that 16-year streak and imposed a 28-cent property tax increase. It brought the county’s property tax rate up to $2.24.
“The county did adjust its revenues and because of that, you are stronger today and you should be applauded for what you did,” said Gibson on Monday. “You were on a path that was not sustainable. You are on a path now that is sustainable, I think. I think you just need to keep doing what you are doing.”
Among the numbers presented, the county’s general fund was $5.3 million in 2016 and increased to $5.7 million in 2020.
“Now, all that is not unrestricted dollars,” said Gibson. “There are some restricted dollars in those and you can’t spend all that money. There is a good portion that’s unrestricted.”
The county’s general debt service fund was $8.9 million in 2016 and is $9.8 million in 2020.
“If you go back about 10 years ago that fund balance was actually higher than that,” said Gibson. “You were approaching about $12 million at one point. It did go down a little bit. Then, it started to go back up. But, that is not to say the county is in worse shape today. If you go back and look at your general fund at the same time, a decade ago, that number was in the $2 million range or $2.5 million. Realistically, if you ask me today ‘How is Warren County?’ if you go back and look at the financials of where you are today, you are probably one of the strongest times you have ever been in.”
Gibson suggested the county continue on its current financial path and consider the creation of a capital improvements fund.
“The one thing you have not done historically, but you may want to consider at some point in the future, is to start a capital projects fund. Find $100,000 or $200,000 a year to put into this fund so you can eventually pay for roofs, HVAC units, small repairs here or there, so that you don’t have to use money from the general fund or borrow money. If you start small, maybe you can build a capital improvements fund up over time.”
Warren County government is current generating is budget for fiscal year 2021-22.
Final numbers for 2021 will not be available until after June 30 when the fiscal year ends.