2015-03-19 / Front Page

Auditors: Town finances A-OK

By Margo Sullivan

The town of Jamestown finished fiscal year 2014 in the black, according to Finance Director Tina Collins.

The surplus was thanks to a $225,892 overage that the school department realized. The municipal government, however, needed to rely on balance transfers to avoid spilling red ink. The transfers went to cover a one-time paving project, amounting to more than $250,000, and a shortfall in a capital improvement project for the roads, Collins said.

Nonetheless, on a “budgetary basis,” the town’s revenues surpassed expenses and transfers by $354,607. The revenues from the schools exceeded expenses and transfers by $225,892.

The schools are included with the general fund, said Collins.

The audit was conducted by Baxter Dansereau & Associates, and submitted to town officials in January. However, breaking with past practices, the councilors decided a formal presentation was unnecessary.

Collins summarized the annual audit findings on Monday during the Town Council meeting. According to the auditor, she said, “There were no material or reportable findings for either the town or the schools.” In the auditor’s opinion, the town’s financial statements fairly represent its financial position.

Operating expenses amount to $23.1 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, against total revenues of $23.7 million. However, the combined fund balances came to $7.6 million. More than 60 percent of the fund balance ($4.6 million) is currently unassigned and available.

The combined surplus for the town and schools amounted to $217,802, Collins indicated. The figure includes some “unanticipated revenues,” which came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cost savings, and higher collections in some municipal departments. Also, some money came from the harbor office for its installment payment for the repairs to the East Ferry seawall, she said.

Expenses from the project, how- ever, went over budget by $43,264.

Specifically, according to the audit findings, the town received $224,587 extra from property taxes due to a high collection rate plus back taxes. The town also collected $283,820 extra in revenues due to a FEMA reimbursement.

Investment income was down $11,589 due to low interest rates. Other unanticipated receipts came to $26,257.

On the expense side, many departments went over budget in the salary line because union contracts had not been settled at the time the budget was presented, the auditors said. Also, the town administrator’s salary went into the red by almost $56,000, mostly for a severance package paid to Kevin Paicos.

The local police, fire, health and recreation departments finished the year under budget due to cost savings. Public safety had a surplus of $27,548; public health saved $34,636; and the recreation department was in the black by $57,362. The library, however, overspent by $15,093 due to unexpected costs. And the finance department and tax assessor went into the red by $12,351.

Collins noted the town’s financial position is healthy with only $9 million in legal debt, $55.9 million below the state’s limit.

Another key number, she said, was the combined budget for fiscal year 2015, which totaled 34.43 percent of the fund balance.

“Excellent,” Council President Kristine Trocki said.

Compared to the prior year, the town’s fund balance dropped $8,090 from $4,487,901 to $4,479, 811. The school department’s fund balance increased from $2.9 million to $3.1 million.

In other business, under the consent agenda, the councilors approved a bid award for a water quality study at Sheffield Cove, which the state has closed to shellfishing. Justin Jobin, the town’s environmental scientist, recommended hiring the ESS Group as the environmental consultant for an amount “not to exceed $27,100.”

In his March 12 memo, Jobin noted the town received eight bids for the job. He indicated the bids had been opened in public on Jan. 22, but he did not specify the low bidder or include details about the bid amounts.

Town Administrator Andy Nota said he would research the bid amounts and provide the figures.

The town interviewed three candidates: EA Engineering of Warwick, ESS Group of East Providence, and Crossman Engineering of Warwick. Jobin recommended ESS Group based on the “firm’s qualifications and proposed budget.”

Nota said he was confident in Jobin’s judgment.

“The scope of the project will include evaluating the current condition of Sheffield Cove water quality, as well as the quality of the storm-water runoff entering the cove from the associated drainage area,” Jobin wrote. “In addition, the consultant will identify alternative methods for storm-water mitigation, and estimated budgetary costs for such mitigation alternatives.”

Also, Jerry Scott of the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown, addressed the council during the unscheduled open forum. Scott commended the council for installing video cameras to record public meetings, and other efforts to make local government accessible. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of Sunshine Week, he said, celebrating open meetings and access to public records.

“We’re all working hard,” Trocki said.

Finally, the council postponed appointing new members to the charter review panel. So far, Anthony Antine, James Rugh and Mary Lou Sanborn have applied for the posts. The panel has seven vacancies, so four more applicants need to come forward.

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