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Lapsley wonders if county has too much money

Thanks to aggressive expense control, Henderson County ended the 2015-16 fiscal year with a gain of $2.8 million.

News that the county has been fiscally cautious has in the past inspired hosannas by board members. That was not the case Monday night in the context of efforts by two commissioners to cut taxes.

Commissioner Bill Lapsley, along with Grady Hawkins, lost in two efforts to tie support of a local option sales tax to a rollback of the property and both voted no on a 5-cent tax increase in the current year's budget.

While Lapsley praised the work of "an excellent management team" in controlling expenses, "the bottom line I would point out again is that this is probably the sixth year in a row this board has added to the county's fund balance, in this case $2.8 million," he said. "I have a concern that we are bringing in much more money than the county needs for its budget to expand. I think we should look seriously at this when we discuss what the tax rate should be for this county."

An audit by the Asheville firm of Martin-Starnes showed that revenue of $121.5 million fell short of the budgeted amount by $2.4 million. The county more than made up the shortfall with expense control. General fund expenditures of $118.6 million came in $5.24 million under the budgeted total of $123.9 million. That difference enabled the county to toss $2.8 million into its reserves. As a result, the unassigned fund balance grew to $27.7 million.

"If I'm reading this correctly, we have almost double the amount of fund balance than our 12 percent policy," Lapsley said. The state requires counties to set aside a fund balance of 8 percent of its general fund and the Board of Commmissioners have a policy of keeping 12 percent in reserves, which translates into $14.2 million. "We're carrying close to 24 percent, maybe 23 percent at this point," Lapsley said.

Wyatt confirmed that the county has been able to put leftover money into the fund balance five out of last six years either because of expense savings or revenues that beat projections or both.