Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fayette Budget Less Than Expected Surplus Provides Excuse

Fayette County officials will hold a "special meeting," Tuesday at 9:30 AM (presumably at the Public Service Building, in Uniontown) to discuss the 2008 General Fund Budget.

The Fayette County Commissioners are responsible for the county's budget and finances. View the 2008 Adopted General Fund Budget

Watch as the less-than-expected budget surplus county officials in Fayette will explain will be used as an excuse to hold-off on paying off the 3-year loan the county had to arrange in order to pay for the acquistion of a supplemental voting system.

The system uses precinct scanners to handle paper ballots voters can choose to use during an election and is one of two the vendor a previous board chose can employ in counties which adopt both systems.

A few years back, county commissioners at the time chose to adopt Hart InterCivic's "eSlates." The wholly electronic machines use a unique daisy wheel turn-a-dial feature to highlight selections on a screen. The system is called Direct Recording Electronic and does not require a paper trail or paper record voters review before casting their electronic ballot.

Voters review a screen of selections before casting the ballot electronically.

During Primary and General Muncipal Elections held over a year ago, the DREs were exclusively employed. The ballot was long, some nine pages on screen, and many voters were hesitant with the technology. After the elections, officials fielded many public complaints about long lines and difficulty for some using the machines.

After a new Administration was seated, including newcomer Democrat Vincent Zapotosky, who became Chairman, a majority of commissioners, Democrat Vincent Vicites, and Zapotosky, were convinced the second system Hart InterCivic provides, scanners and paper ballots, called eScans, could help ease the problematic situations that might arise during what became for Pennsylvania, a contentious Presidential Primary, especially the Democratic contest.

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink abstained from a vote on adopting the paper based system, explaining she didn't feel she had enough information including how the county was going to pay for the $580,000 acquistion.

After adopting the system, the majority of the board (Vicites/Zapotosky) later entered into a financial agreement to purchase approximately 113 eScans which spans 3-years with an interest rate over 4 percent.

Some $170,000 from a general fund carryover derived from previous Help America Vote Act funding was used for the first-year payment on the loan.

When the board first publicly noted the existence of a hefty budget surplus during a May 6 Agenda Meeting, we commented the extra should be spent first on a purge of the voter registration database and the cost of acquiring the eScans, then on other necessities. We estimated costs might be estimated around $600,000 to pay off both the loan and costs of the mailings for the purge completely.

We didn't object to a portion of the surplus monies (then noted as some $1.7 million) being placed in a "lock-box" of sorts, a proposal made by Commissioner Zimmerlink which could be untouchable except for true emergencies.

During public comment at a following business meeting, when the board was to consider how the monies would be used, and/or saved for emergencies, we expresed there was an emergency situation currently, it's called voting and elections, and a bloated voter registration list. News outlets didn't pick up the quote.

(Instead, but legitimately, local media focused on the windmill turbines and the enormous amount of public comment during the meeting from both sides of the issue)

When the agenda item came up, Commissioner Zimmerlink made a motion to table the item.

There was no other information provided at the time the item was tabled.

Reports the next day highlighted the surplus was found to be less than stated.

Subsequent reports in part identify an accounting error for the shortfall in the surplus.

We're anxious to learn how the error occurred, but aren't missing the heart of the matter. There's now approximately less than half of the expected surplus $1.7 million available to spend on "emergency" situations now.

One encouraging situation: a majority of the board (Vicites/Zapotosky) have already directed the Election Bureau director to proceed with the formal and official purge of voter registration database, and the cost of that would be well under $90,000 approximately, even with the increase in postage costs to mail out letters to all voter registrants to determine status of residency, and other requirements for being registered to vote in the county. (Like being alive)

Net the Truth Online

Fayette officials to explain $750,000 accounting error
By Liz Zemba
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fayette County commissioners intend to hold a public meeting next week to explain in detail how a $750,000 accounting error occurred in their 2008 budget.
Commissioners Vincent Zapotosky, board chairman, and Vincent Vicites said Tuesday they are in the process of gathering documents related to the error, which will be released at the meeting.

"We want everybody in Fayette County to know what transpired," Zapotosky said. "We're not associating blame. We just want the folks of Fayette County to know what happened."

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink was out of the office yesterday, but when contacted by phone acknowledged that the meeting might be necessary...

...The accounting error was uncovered last week, forcing commissioners to delay action on Zimmerlink's proposal to reallocate a 2006 budget surplus of approximately $1.7 million into various accounts. Because of the error, the county will have less of a surplus to divvy up.

Commissioners last week said the error occurred when a $750,000 loan to the county's Children & Youth Services was listed in the 2008 budget as revenue. The loan is to be paid back to the county, once CYS receives its state and federal funding.

Zapotosky said the loan should have been listed as a "balance" item, not as revenue.

County to explains $750,000 accounting error
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
Updated 05/29/2008 12:23:43 AM EDT

Exactly how an accounting error involving $750,000 occurred in the Fayette County budget will be explained during a special public meeting that has been called by commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky.

The meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The purpose of this meeting is to provide for openness and insight to the severity of this matter," Zapotosky said.

In calling for the meeting, Zapotosky said exactly what happened and the impact it had on the county budget must be explained. He said the date was selected because of the availability of Sam Lynch of Susquehanna Group Advisor Inc., who discovered the error. Susquehanna Group works with the controller's office.

In late 2007, the county gave a temporary loan to Children and Youth Services in the amount of $750,000 that would be repaid in 2008. However, in the 2008 budget the amount was incorrectly listed as revenue when it should have been listed as a receivable amount.

The issue first came to light last week when the commissioners were set to take action on creating a separate account for capital projects using an account balance from the end of 2006 that was estimated to be $1.7 million.

Lynch said the audited 2006 financial statement has a fund balances of $1.7 million and of that amount about $200,000 is reserved for capital programs and $1.5 million is unreserved.

Lynch said he has reviewed the 2008 budget, which lists the $750,000 as revenue. However, he said when the money is repaid the receipts will be credited to the accounts receivable line due from Children and Youth.

"This item will not be treated

as a revenue item in 2008. The 2008 budget has a $750,000 reimbursement as a revenue item that is not revenue,

actually has created as shortfall in revenue for 2008. In order to balance the 2008 budgeted expenditures, the short fall amount will be taken from fund balance." Lynch said.

Because of the change, Lynch said the 2006 unreserved fund balance will be reduced this year by $750,000, and will drop from $1.5 million to about $790,000.

Lynch said he would recommend transferring surplus funds to either a capital or operating reserve account but cautioned that the county cannot transfer any more than $791,983 because of budgeting the Children and Youth Services as a revenue item when the reimbursement is actually a receivable amount...

...Vicites pointed out that even if the $750,000 is taken away from the $1.5 million, there is still a surplus of nearly $800,000.

Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink, who initiated the plan to create funds for special projects, said she initially thought the surplus as of the end of 2006 was $1.7 million, but apparently it is $1.5 million, with $200,000 already earmarked for capital projects.

Additionally she said now the recommendation is to take the $750,000 from the surplus and allocate it to the operating reserve fund and the capital reserve fund.

"We also must keep in mind that fiscal year ending 2007 there is an estimate of a surplus as well," Zimmerlink said...

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