By Debbie Hall
Patrick County does not appear to be in a situation of fiscal distress that would warrant assistance or intervention from the state, according to a letter from the Auditor of Public Accounts Office.
Budget deficits of the last few years prompted the state in December to notify the county and further review the locality to determine whether the county was in fiscal distress, according to previous reports. “The county completed our assessment questionnaire and provided our office additional information related to budget processes, debt, borrowing, expenses and payables, revenues and receivables, staffing, and other external variables,” the letter stated.
“Additionally, our office had multiple discussions with representatives from the county to obtain further understanding of the county’s financial policies, their efforts to improve the budgetary process, along with management and the board of supervisor’s recent consulting with a financial advisor to implement specific budgetary and fiscal recommendations to continue to move the county forward and improve its financial position,” the letter stated.
The letter was dated April 4 – the day after most of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors approved an up to 11 cents real estate tax increase.
Rickie Fulcher, board chairman, said he felt the tax hike was the reason state officials found the county was not in fiscal distress.
“Had we not done that” tax increase, the state “would be looking for ways to help us. Had we not done that increase, we would have a more difficult row to hoe down the road,” Fulcher said.
During the April 8 supervisors meeting, Fulcher noted the county had participated in conference calls with state officials. He said the state provided the county with additional resources and contacts within the state Department of Education’s main budget office to “hopefully clear up the confusion relative to the school board’s budget request including the proposed 5 percent pay raises and the local match, if any, that is required by the county,” he added.
“I think there’s been a misinterpretation” with respect to the amount the locality is required to provide the school division, Fulcher said. “Rather than make accusations, we’re trying to determine a clear line of facts” on which to base the decision, Fulcher said. “We want to use facts, not conjecture.”
Fulcher said the county will continue to work with officials in the auditor’s office, the DOE and seek other resources in various other areas as needed.
“We will be using them in an advisory capacity. The door is not closed,” he said. “I think they’re an asset that we need to use to help guide us as we move forward.”