There may be too much of a good thing. An audit of the past five years’ worth of Town of Lloyd books from state officials revealed that Town Supervisor Paul Hansut’s preference to save money in the budget when he can has been too successful: despite worries that the fund balance has been used too aggressively, staffers at the state comptroller’s office found that it’s actually grown by about $2 million in that time. The reason, they say, is that “the board underestimated revenues and overestimated expenditures in the general, water and sewer funds each year.” At the same time, when they have appropriated fund balance to keep the tax levy down, only a fraction (25%) of that money has been used to fund operations. That also raised eyebrows.
The key recommendations from the comptroller’s report are: “Include more realistic estimates of revenues and expenditures when adopting the annual budget. Discontinue the practice of adopting budgets with appropriation of fund balance that will not be used to fund operations. Develop and adopt a fund balance policy to ensure levels of fund balance are reasonable.”
Adopting a fund balance policy will correct what’s seen as a lack of transparency. Town officials explained that putting more fund balance into the budget provides flexibility in administering grants, many of which are only reimbursed months after the money is spent. A bigger cushion means that taxpayers won’t be put on the hook for borrowing costs. A response to that explanation was also included in the report: “We acknowledge that operating surpluses and excess fund balance reduce the cost and need for borrowing. However, without a fund balance policy or funding reserves, there is a lack of transparency to the taxpayers.”
Board members have committed to getting a policy in place by September. The 2020 budget, the last Hansut will prepare before leaving office, will likely have the estimates reviewed with considerable care in light of the report.