Friday, February 15, 2013

Auditors: County is in good fiscal shape

Road depreciation harming asset value


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

JoLynn Drage

Blaine County’s finances are basically good, but the county should be concerned about depreciation of assets such as roads and bridges, an independent auditor said Tuesday.

Curtis Stoker of Rupert-based accounting firm Condie, Stoker & Associates told the county commissioners that the county’s total net assets decreased by nearly $679,000 from 2011 to 2012. However, he added, that number does not mean the county’s finances are in trouble—only that its roads and bridges have depreciated by $1.35 million over the past year.

The audit prepared by Stoker’s firm shows that the county’s capital assets such as buildings, roads, bridges, equipment, furniture and vehicles have depreciated by more than $2.5 million over the past year. Of those items, roads and bridges have depreciated the most.

“Counties aren’t replacing roads to the point that we had in previous years,” Stoker said.

But Blaine County Clerk JoLynn Drage said in an interview that she doesn’t think that’s a cause for concern. While it’s true that roads depreciate, Drage said, the county doesn’t have a system for tracking repairs made to roads and adjusting depreciation rates accordingly.

“We truly have a lot more value in roads than this might indicate,” she said. 

For example, the county might repair two miles of a 10-mile stretch of road, lengthening the life of that road and increasing its value. However, auditors would not factor in that repair when determining the depreciation of the county road system.

“That’s just not how we’ve looked at it,” Drage said, adding that in the future, she would work with Blaine County Road and Bridge to factor those repairs into road values.

Blaine County Director of Operations Char Nelson has urged the commissioners over the past year to repair and replace roads, requesting $1.4 million annually for road maintenance and $6.5 million over the next 20 years to replace depreciated equipment.

Drage pointed out that two bridges in Deer Creek and Adams Gulch were under construction at the time of the audit. The value of that reconstruction will be included in next year’s statement, she said.

Stoker said the county’s unrestricted assets—cash that can be used to fund county operations or projects—actually increased last year.

Auditors also noted that the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office had a “special account” through which it collects donations. While the auditors did not find any anomalies in the account, Stoker still suggested that the account be closed and integrated with all other county expenses.

The commissioners did not make a decision on the account Tuesday, but Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she wants to see a plan for how that account could be overseen by the Clerk’s Office.

“I see that [account] as problematic, and it needs to change,” she said.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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