County ends year in the black

September 10, 1997


Staff Writer

Aided by a buoyant local economy and a strong stock market, Washington County ended fiscal 1997 with a general fund operating surplus of between $4.4 million and $4.7 million, the county finance director said Tuesday.

When separate funding accounts such as roads, transportation and landfills are included, the total surplus for 1997 was more than $7 million.

Debra Bastian said gains in the stock market combined with record low unemployment helped swell revenues. Last month, Bastian had predicted a general fund surplus of between $3 million and $4 million.


The Washington County Commissioners, who on July 1 raised property taxes by $2.5 million to pay for increased spending for the county detention center, education and sewers, previously had decided to spend $250,000 of the anticipated surplus on road resurfacing, up to $50,000 on a fall solid waste cleanup day, and $2 million on capital projects in fiscal 1999.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said the surplus proves he was right when he said the county didn't need to raise taxes.

In addition to the general fund surplus, other county accounts, including water and sewer, ended the fiscal year with surpluses.

The sewer fund had a surplus of about $1 million - about $300,000 more than expected - and the water fund had a surplus of about $415,000, or $94,000 more than expected.

The water and sewer surpluses were used to build up a reserve that will help pay off bond issues when they start coming due in 2000.

Bastian credited the better-than-expected news to about $350,000 in savings in operating costs.

Without a $2.7 million subsidy from the general fund, the water and sewer funds would have shown a deficit.

County Commissioner R. Lee Downey praised the commissioners' takeover of water and sewer operations from the now-defunct Washington County Sanitary District and said the department is back on track.

"The water and sewer crisis is now over," Downey said.

Bowers said he wanted to know how much of the county's $2.7 million contribution last year went toward principal on the debt. Bastian said she would have those figures in October. Most of the money is going to pay for operating losses, and is not applied to principal, she said.

The only fund to end the fiscal year in the red was transportation, which is principally the County Commuter bus service. Most of the $154,106 loss came from an unexpected $138,000 drop in federal and state transportation subsidies.

County Commissioner James R. Wade said the commissioners must decide the extent to which they want to continue subsidizing County Commuter.

Bowers asked Kevin Cerrone, County Commuter supervisor, if a marketing effort was planned or in the works to boost ridership. Cerrone said a survey showed few people were aware of what County Commuter had to offer and that more marketing is needed.

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