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Avery County Government’s Highly-Favorable Audit Announced at Commissioners Meeting

By Tim Gardner  

     During the regular monthly meeting of the Avery Commissioners on February 4, it was revealed that the county received a highly-positive audit for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

     All commissioners attended, including: Chairperson Martha Hicks; Vice-Chairman Blake Vance; Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Dennis Aldridge. County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Commissioners Cindy Turbyfill; and Finance Officer Tim Greene. County Attorney Michaelle Poore was absent.

     Sharon Gillespie of the Young, Miller & Gillespie Public Accountants Company in Spruce Pine addressed the commissioners about the past fiscal year’s county audit report that the accounting firm conducted. Gillespie said the county received excellent ratings in its audit, running from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

     According to Greene, the county has a total governmental fund balance of $21,664,962.00. He noted that not all that money is available as pre-paid assets and restricted funds are taken from that amount. He said the total amount available to the county in the General Fund’s Unrestricted Fund Balance is $15,158,370.00.

     There had been speculation raised about some of the county’s fire funds possibly missing. Commissioner Young, Jr. specifically asked about any such missing funds.   Gillespie noted that the audit revealed that no fire funds were missing or unaccounted for.

     The commissioners expressed thanks to Gillespie and the accounting firm for her and the company’s efforts in completing the audit and were pleased with its findings.

     “It’s a really good auditing report,” Barrier, Jr. said. “A county has a lot of parts, and to get them all moving in the same direction takes a lot of hard and good work from a lot of people. Our audit was exemplary for the past fiscal year and we’re proud of that.”

     Copies of the complete audit for 2017-2018 and all fiscal years dating back to 2006-2007 are available online for anyone who would like to review them at: http://www.averycountync.gov/departments/Audit.php

     As required by North Carolina General Statutes Paragraph 159-34, the Board of County Commissioners shall select a certified public accountant or an accountant certified by the Local Government Commission as qualified to audit local government accounts. Avery County shall have its accounts audited annually. The audit will also include a compliance examination in accordance with applicable Federal and State rules, regulations and guidelines as required under the Single Audit Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-502) and the State Single Audit Implementation Act, as contained in G.S. 159-34. The audit shall be conducted as soon as possible after the close of the fiscal year, and the auditor shall report directly to the governing board.

     At their December 3, 2018 meeting, the commissioners unanimously (5-0) approved a request from the Young, Miller & Gillespie Certified Public Accounting Company to extend the deadline by three months to finish the county’s annual audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018. The new, modified deadline was set for January 31, 2019. The audit had an original deadline of October 31, 2018.

     Young, Miller & Gillespie officials requested the deadline extension because the Other Post-Employee Benefits (OPEB) Report was not filed earlier this year by the county as required by Federal law.

     Commissioner Hicks said that a former county employee responsible for doing so did not file the mandated report.

     The definition of OPEB includes healthcare and other non-pension benefits provided to employees. Reported OPEBs may include post-retirement medical, pharmacy, dental, vision, life, long-term disability and long-term care benefits that are not associated with a pension plan. Government employers required to comply with GASB include all states, towns, education boards, water districts, mosquito districts, public schools and all other government entities that offer OPEB and report under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

     The commissioners voted unanimously (5-0) to again appoint Young, Miller & Gillespie, Public Accountants to audit the financial statements for the County as of, and for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. Terms of the agreement between the County and Young, Miller & Gillespie include: the audit will begin in July 2019; the report will be issued no later than October 31, 2019 at a price not to exceed $36,400.00; there will be no increase from the prior fiscal year; and the cost of the over-all audit also includes compiling the County’s Fire Commission Audit.

     The Young, Miller and Gillespie Accounting Firm has conducted the audit for Avery County the past several years.
     In other business, Avery County Chamber of Commerce President Melynda Peeble presented a detailed report to the commissioners about the various ways the Chamber promotes economic development in Avery County, its responsibilities in doing so and its various operating expenses. They include:

-Promoting Economic Development-

*Annually organizes, implements and maintains the local Leadership Avery program

*Maintains and services a average of 380-400 Chamber members on an annual basis

*Budgets and spends $10,000.00 per year for advertising for events and Chamber needs

*Spends an average of $3,500.00 per year in direct mail to businesses and visitors interested in relocating to Avery County and implementing current information to Chamber members

*Maintains & Updates an Active Web site for all businesses especially for businesses that do not have their own web site

*Provides free weekly E-Blasts to all Chamber members plus others in the region to increase awareness of valuable business information-30 percent open rate

*Provides and employs two full-time employees five days per week to accommodate the needs of the Chamber

*Maintains over a $230,000.00 budget for Chamber services to the community

*Provides training programs for businesses dependent on their need

*Liaison between local organizations, businesses individuals and representatives of government, business and industry in relation to economic development

*Creates and attends research and market opportunities to promote business and family relocation to Avery County

*Develops partnerships within the community to advance and promote business and relocation growth

*Assists local organizations, businesses and individuals to take advantage of economic development opportunities and major projects

     Peeble also noted that direct tourist spending saves an average of more than $700.00 per household in state and local taxes.

     She then told about the Chamber’s responsibilities that enhance economic development in the County. They include:

*Represents the community at regional and territorial meetings and conferences about economic development such as-Visit NC 365 Conference; Western Carolina University Tourism Conference; National Tourism Week; Blue Ridge National Heritage; Blue Ridge Music Trails; Western North Carolina Chamber Executives; Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives; and all other social media and marketing workshops deemed necessary. The Chamber’s average yearly travel expenses are $2,000.00-$3,000.00.

*Board member of NC High Country Host, High Country Crime Stoppers, Banner Elk Kiwanis and High Country Rural Planning Organization

*Active Member of Western North Carolina Chamber Executives, Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, Banner Elk Kiwanis and Blue Ridge Parkway Association. The yearly expense for membership is $500.00.

*Responsible for organizing and implementing events and festivals to enhance local businesses and attract tourism-Fine art and Master Crafts Festivals in July& August; Avery Chamber Golf Classic, Avery County Wine and Beer Festival, Annual Chamber Event and Annual Woolly Worm Festival. These events attract over an average of 30,000 visitors and vendors to the High Country.

*Creates, promotes and distributes 45,000 Avery County Business, Relocation & Visitor Guides in the High Country, throughout North Carolina, Tennessee and parts of Virginia and drop ships to 90 North Carolina Chambers & Visitors Centers, The expense for Avery County distribution with Print Distribution-$2,000.00 per year and the expense for creation and printing of Avery Guide averages $15,500.00.

*Creates and prints 28,000 Avery County Event Rack Cards that are inserted in the May Mountain Electric customer bills each year. That average cost is $2,000.00.

     In his County Manager’s Report, Barrier, Jr. gave an update about the county’s new swimming pool construction, which he said is progressing on schedule.

     By a 4-1 vote, the commissioners approved allocating an additional $25,824.00 from the Appropriated Fund Balance for the Swimming Pool Project from $3,312,176.00 to a new projected total cost of $3,338,000.00. That includes increases of: $1,564.01.00 in General Construction costs, from $2,407,628.00 to $2,407,628.00 and $3,000.00 in furniture for the facility’s registration, lobby and office areas, up from $10,000.00 to $13,000.00.

     Commissioners Phillips, Aldridge, Young, Jr. and Hicks voted in favor of the additional fund allocation and Commissioner Vance voted against.

     Barrier, Jr. also spoke about the Avery Cares Building in Newland and Broadband Internet Service in the county. He said the Cares facility is being used more often with regular meetings held there twice weekly. Barrier, Jr. also noted that Broadband is expanding in Avery County as its Energy Boost system has more than doubled its clientele from 260 to 590 subscribers in its LightLeap service. He added that county officials are continuing to work feverishly to obtain Broadband service for all parts of the county.

     In other finance-related matters, Greene told the commissioners that North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered that the Board of Elections add another Board member at the local level. Greene asked the commissioners for $1,750.00 to provide a salary for the new Board member, which they unanimously approved.

     Greene also informed the commissioners that the Avery Sheriff’s Department has received a $6,814.00 reimbursement from Carteret County for expenses incurred in support of emergency protective measures and response to Hurricane Florence. The commissioners unanimously approved a budget amendment concerning the reimbursement.

     Tax Collector Bruce Daniels told the commissioners that the county collected $2,754,168.62 in taxes for the month of January 2019.

     In additional topics:

*Mark Forbes was recognized by the commissioners for receiving the Outstanding Technician of The Year Award from the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

* Kate Gavenus and Mike Reese were appointed by the commissioners to Avery’s Economic Development Commission.

     The next regular monthly meeting of the commissioners will be Monday, March 4, in their Board Room in the County Administration Building at 175 Linville Street in Newland, beginning at 3:30 p.m.