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County officials spending wisely, audit determines

By Staff | Apr 1, 2009

Even though Lee County is facing a $145 million budgetary shortfall for the current and next fiscal years, the financial outlook might not be as bad as originally forecast.
An independent auditor painted a picture Tuesday for county commissioners that is not quite rosy, yet not quite the doom-filled perspective that the budget numbers originally indicated.
The audit focused on the 2008 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
Like much of the nation, the county’s investments took a nose dive in 2008, but it took a real hit in the amount of expenses, which increased $72,833,000, or 7.6 percent, in comparison to the prior year.
The county’s revenue decreased by $86,349,000, or 6.5 percent, when compared to the previous year.
The loss in revenue is what really hurt the county, and what is setting up the next fiscal year to be one of the worst for Lee County on record.
Yet, one of the major bright spots from the audit showed Lee County’s general or operating fund is still at 60 percent.
That places Lee County in select company, as only six counties in Florida with a population of more than 300,000 have an operating fund still at 60 percent.
If nothing else, the strength of the operating fund indicates county leaders have been spending responsibly. It also bodes well for the next fiscal year, possibly making the budget more malleable.
“With the fund balance we will have more flexibility moving into the next budget year,” Lee County Commission Chairman Ray Judah said.
The audit, conducted by Tampa-based KPMG, did not reflect anything of the 2009 fiscal year, which concludes in September.
Commissioner Tammy Hall was quick to point out that the county’s ailing revenue for the previous fiscal year will be even worse for 2009, as property taxes have decreased greatly.
However, the county’s net assets have increased by 6.6 percent, bringing the total to $2,198,724,000.
Commissioner Frank Mann praised the work of county staff through a difficult budget year, and the county’s proclivity in net assets during a recession.
“This has been a tough year,” he said. “Looking at this report, the budget has been very well managed by our staff.”
Commissioners will meet with constitutional officers for a budget workshop April 29.