Brewer News

Brewer reduced dipping into reserve funds in 2013, audit finds

BREWER, Maine — City officials learned from the recently completed annual municipal audit that Brewer spent a smaller-than-expected portion of its fund balance to cover costs during fiscal year 2013.

The city had budgeted to spend $2.7 million from its reserves, but only used 40 percent of that — about $1 million — because it saw slightly higher-than-expected revenue and lower expenses in that fiscal year, according to Finance Director Karen Fussell.

The auditor, Casey Leonard of Runyon Kersteen Ouellette, found that in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, Brewer brought in about $308,000 more revenue than budgeted, largely due to higher-than-expected excise tax revenues and a decrease in unavailable property taxes.

The city also spent nearly $1.48 million less than projected in that fiscal year, Leonard said. A number of factors played into that, according to Leonard, including unfilled staff positions, the merger of the police and fire chief positions into one public safety director, and lower-than-expected general assistance costs.

Brewer Mayor Jerry Goss said Monday that the results were “because of the work people at the city level did on both sides of the budget.” He said the audit results were a credit to the city’s finance department and other officials who sought out ways to save and generate money throughout the year.

“The figures we get we know are accurate and we know are forward thinking,” Goss said. “That makes it easy for us.”

About 57 percent of the $33.5 million the city spent in 2013 went toward education. Half of the city’s total revenue of $32.3 million came from taxes. The city increased its tax rate in fiscal year 2013 — from $17.95 to $18.99 — for the first time since 2002. That helped make up for the loss of municipal revenue sharing, Goss said.

Leonard said the fact that taxes hadn’t increased in 11 years was “quite remarkable” and unique among his clients, according to Fussell.

Leonard presented his findings to the city council during its February meeting.

The auditor also commended the city for its tax collection rate of 97.6 percent. Typically, anything over 95 percent is considered strong.

Fussell said in a memo to councilors and city officials that Brewer still has a few things it should improve on, such as building its unassigned fund balance. As of June 30, 2013, the city had nearly $3.5 million in that fund, which would cover a month and six days of operating expenses for the city. While still above the one-month coverage standard, it would be in the city’s best interest to increase that balance during the current fiscal year, she said.

The audit found that five percent of transactions at Brewer High School had the same employee physically taking in cash and signing off on a deposit voucher. Leonard said that could lead to an increased risk of fraud. Fussell said the high school has already changed its procedures in response, requiring two signatures on all cash receipts.

Those were among the few minor issues the audit pointed out.

“I don’t think it could have turned out much better,” Goss said of the audit.

A copyright article from The Bangor Daily News by Nick McCrea.