Beaver County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for 2015 is scheduled to be released tomorrow by the Controller’s Office, which provides additional proof that the prior Board of Commissioners racked up millions of dollars in budget deficits that were effectively kept hidden from county taxpayers.
The CAFR is a backward-looking report released each year by County Controller David Rossi that examines the financial performance of the county for the previous fiscal year. The financial report is independently audited by an outside accounting firm.
As the Beaver Countian first reported in January, the prior Board of Commissioners — comprised of Democratic Commissioners Tony Amadio and Joe Spanik along with Republican Commissioner Dennis Nichols — ended last year with a negative cash balance in the county’s accounts and voted to pass a budget for 2016 which hid millions of dollars in deficit spending. Independent audits conducted by the Binkley Kanavy Group and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) both confirmed the findings originally reported by the County Controller’s Office.
When the new Board of Commissioners – comprised of Republican Commissioners Sandie Egley and Dan Camp along with Democratic Commissioner Tony Amadio – took office in January, they reopened the county’s budget in response to Controller Rossi’s findings, making drastic spending cuts in an attempt at mitigating what the newly appointed Financial Administrator Ricardo Luckow had dubbed “a crisis situation for Beaver County.” Commissioner Tony Amadio, the last remaining Commissioner from the previous Board, has continued to balk at assertions that the county faced any major deficits.
The newly released CAFR for 2015 will once again provide proof of the massive deficits which ran into the millions.
“As I have been saying all along, these numbers are not made up,” Controller David Rossi told the Beaver Countian. “These numbers have not only been verified by my office, they have been verified by several outside auditing firms as well. These are final verified numbers.”
According to the CAFR, Beaver County spent $71 million on expenses last year but brought in only $62 million in revenues.
“In short, the county spent $9.1 million last year more than it brought in,” said Rossi. “The county had a little bit of cash on hand at the beginning of last year, but it ended in the red.”
Beaver County ended last year with $3.6 million in cash on hand, but wrote two checks to cover Tax Anticipation Notes which were required by law to be paid off by the end of the year. Those processed checks totaled $9.5 million, leaving the CAFR to reflect a final cash balance for the county of -$5.9 million.
The budget for 2016 which was passed by the prior Board of Commissioners in November 2015 showed the county would have +$6.1 million to start off the year — the budget was in a projected deficit of more than -$12 million before a single dollar was spent in 2016.
Beaver County Financial Administrator Ricardo Luckow told the Beaver Countian that the budget passed by the prior Board of Commissioners hid even greater deficits, because it failed to include necessary and contractually obligated spending for the year.
Among the items the county was liable for in 2016 that were not included in the budget passed by the prior Board include $300,000 in cleaning contract expenses (the budget reflected $0) and $850,000 in reimbursements owed to First Energy Corporation as the result of a tax assessment appeal (not listed in the budget). The budget passed in 2015 also projected a $3.5 million reimbursement from the county’s medical claims fund, a number that had never exceeded $1 million in the past 16 years.
All totaled, Luckow said the budget failed to account for millions of dollars in expenses the county was liable for. Add those expenses onto the -$12 million deficit the county started the year with and the budget deficit number skyrockets toward the -$17 million mark originally projected by Controller Rossi’s Office.
Although the prior Board had repeatedly pointed to delays in funding from the State due to a budget gridlock as the cause of its financial shortcomings, county financial records show that accounted for only $1.3 million in general fund deficits last year.
“The Controller’s Office looks back into the past,” said Controller Rossi. “The Commissioners are the ones who set the budget. I go a step further than required by my office and keep an eye on cash on hand and try to project expenses. That’s how I was able to see a projected deficit and that’s why I sounded the alarm last year […] The previous Board kept telling me there are additional revenues coming in, but they never specified what those revenues were. Those additional revenues didn’t come in because there were no additional revenues.”
Democratic Controller David Rossi has largely agreed with measures being taken by the new Republican majority Board of Commissioners to bring the budget under control.
“Steps are being taken to get the county into financial shape,” said Controller Rossi. “More steps need to be taken, but we’re now on the right path.”
County Chief of Staff Joe Weidner, who was hired by the new Republican Board, has lauded Controller Rossi’s work in uncovering the county’s deficits. “At this point if you still don’t believe that the county was facing a huge deficit, please call me and I’ll send you an application to the Flat Earth Society.”
Beaver County’s 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) will be available for download on the County Controller’s webpage later this week.