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Audit shows Hall does OK during recession
County has $43.5 million in debt on sewer projects
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Hall County has received the results of its financial audit for fiscal year 2010, which show the county has weathered the recession relatively well.

Bates Carter & Co., the accounting firm handling the audit, gave the county a clean opinion, meaning financial statements were presented fairly.

Beth Grimes, an accountant with Bates Carter, reported that Hall County revenues increased less than 1 percent over 2009, though expenditures decreased 4.5 percent.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collections were lower than projected. For the first year of collections in SPLOST VI, which began in 2009, the county brought in $24 million. Projections were for the county to bring in more than $33 million.

Hall County has $43.5 million in long-term debt on sewer and wastewater projects.

Grimes said the county has only made payments on the interest of the Spout Springs Water Reclamation Facility so far. The final payment is due in 2027 and there are currently few sewer customers on the system due to the economy.

"Operating revenue really needs to be up higher when you start paying that principal," Grimes told the board of commissioners. "This is an area you need to watch."

Interim Finance Director Lisa Johnsa said the debt is not cause for alarm, however.

"That is something the county needs to look at but it's tied up in a rate study," Johnsa said. "It won't sit out there as variable rate debt forever."

Grimes also said the county is owed money under sewer agreements with Flowery Branch and Oakwood.

"We find these agreements are not really being followed," Grimes said.

Grimes warned of a cash deficit in the county's utility fund that has been on the books since 2006.

"Deficits really should be short term in nature, not long-term like this one," she said.

Grimes said about 60 percent of the county's tax digest is residential and the remainder is made up of commercial, agricultural, utilities and motor vehicle customers.

Johnsa said while more commercial taxpayers are ideal, a study from Rutgers University recommends a roughly 60 percent residential, 40 percent commercial split for local digests, putting Hall County on target.

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