Money Matters at Work Session

Money Matters at Work Session

Monday's Town Council work session featured encouraging financial reports.

Much of Monday night's work session of the Vienna Town Council concerned the town's financial status.

Jack Farmer of the auditing firm Robinson, Farmer, Cox and Associates presented the town's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005, as prepared by his firm. Then, Phil Grant, the town's finance director, brought the council up to date with a midyear financial report for the fiscal year 2005-2006.

Both presentations were encouraging.

Farmer reported that the town's financial records were without any material weaknesses — those which could throw the results of an audit. "In your case, you have what's called an unqualified, or 'clean,' opinion," he said.

He noted that the town received in this report a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association for its 2003-2004 financial report, which the town has received for "the last long number of years, and that has made quite a statement for the town itself."

Drawing attention to charts laying out the town's expenditures and revenues and comparing the original budget, amended budget and actual budget, Farmer said, "You will find that we have positive cash flows, as well as revenues in excess of expenditures, so, again, that shows fiscal responsibility and good management."

According to the report, the town spent $565,514 less than planned in the amended budget and pulled in $1,517,683 more than expected.

Highlights of the report included total net assets exceeding total liabilities by $50,711,228. This was a .027 percent decrease from the previous year's gap, which the report says primarily resulted from a drop in construction-in-progress assets. Also, the combined ending fund balance of $13,063,294 was $602,365 higher than the previous year's, and the town's long-term obligations decreased by $1,732,587, or 10.3 percent.

Town Manager John Schoeberlein said he was heartened to see that Navy Federal Credit Union's taxes had come to represent a smaller percentage of the town's total tax dollars. "I remember, I don't know how many years ago, when I came here, Navy Federal was about 15 percent. They're down to five," he said, although it did not pass without notice that the company's value is still more than five times the second-largest taxpayer in town.

"Well, it's good not to be a company town," quipped Councilmember Maud Robinson.

"THERE WAS A LOT of good stuff going on in the last year," Grant began his midyear report. Revenues, he said, were over budget, while expenditures were under budget. "So, as a result we had revenues that exceeded expenditures by $640,000," he said.

The town's unreserved fund balance decreased from about $4.7 million to about $4.2 million, although this is still over twice the projected "safe" fund balance amount. He said this was because the town added the Wright Building to the reserved fund. "Otherwise, it would have been up by about $45,000."

Even at $4.2 million, the unreserved fund balance "represents about 24.4 percent of our 2006 budget," said Grant. "That's about 88 calendar days' worth of expenditures, which is very healthy."

Residential property tax assessments rose by 11.2 percent, while assessments on commercial property were up by 5.3, he said.

Councilmember Laurie Cole pointed out that commercial property assessments have been lagging behind residential assessments for some time. "Is that really reflective of what's happening in the town?" she asked.

Grant said there is about a one-year lag time between what is actually happening in the marketplace and how properties are assessed.

One of the highlights he mentioned was that general fund revenues are about 57 percent of the budget, up from 54 percent at this time last year, "and if the current trend continues, we'll probably end up about $292,000 above our estimated revenues for the year." Also, property values for the year are up over 22 percent, and the town has at least a $1.5 million ongoing balance of cash.

"If there is any not-so-good news," said Grant, "it would be meal and lodging tax collections, which at midyear point in previous years were up by generally 5, 6, 7, 8 percent, and last year at this point they were up by 10 percent. But they're only up by a little over 1 percent this year."

Schoeberlein said he had seen some of the receipts for December's meal taxes, which were not included in the report, and thought they looked impressive. He also noted that 2004 was when the Vienna Marketplace shopping center was established, bringing new food outlets.

Following the financial reports, the council debated extensively over a proposed list of projects and their respective budgets for the 2006 Capital Improvements Bond Issue, which would fund improvements to the town for the next three years. However, Public Works Director Dennis King concluded that the list needed to be updated for further discussion, as he felt some projects needed to be reduced or postponed to leave funding for higher priorities, particularly water systems, streets and drainage.

The council did, however, decide to include in the bond issue full funding for the proposed fountain on the forthcoming Town Green. The Rotary Club of Vienna had offered to donate $3,500 to the construction of the fountain. However, according to a letter from new Rotary Club President Matthew Brennan, the donation was to be covered by proceeds from the Viva! Vienna! Festival, which proceeds are proclaimed to be donated solely to charitable causes. Some Rotary members felt the fountain did not qualify as charity.

The letter proposed that the fountain be designated a wishing well, with the coins collected therein to be presented to charities on a yearly basis.

But the council was concerned that a wishing well might result in copper stains from pennies marring the fountain and one town department or another becoming responsible for regularly collecting change from the well.

The town is, however, still accepting smaller, unconditional donations for the fountain from other organizations, such as the Lions Club.