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Audit: Good news for Hubbard County

Hubbard County's outside audit for 2011 gives personnel and the board high marks for keeping the county on solid fiscal footing, according to a report shared at Wednesday's meeting.

"The county's assets exceeded liabilities by $78,529.053 at the close of 2011," the audit stated. "The largest portion of the County's net assets (74 percent) reflects its investment in capital assets (such as) land, construction in progress, infrastructure, buildings and improvements, land improvements and machinery and equipment."

But that amount is not available for future spending.

"The unrestricted net asset amount of $15,494,349, as of Dec. 31, 2011, may be used to meet the County's ongoing obligations to citizens," the report said.

Total assets increased $2 million in 2011, mainly from construction projects financed by County State Aid Highway funding.

Total net assets of business-related activities are $1.77 million. They decreased by $19,279 for the year ended Sept. 20, 2011, "primarily as a result of depreciation of capital assets."

Auditor Colleen Hoffman, of Hoffman, Dale & Swenson in Thief River Falls, said the county's "numbers are extremely reliable" and that prudent stewardship has given Hubbard County a Moody's rating of Aaa, relatively little debt and enough funds on hand for an emergency, even a catastrophic one. It is considered "low risk."

An audit of the federal money the county gets showed no errors or problems, Hoffman said. She is a former state auditor who has reviewed the county's finances for years. Most of those federal dollars are for medical assistance programs.

She said even a minor blemish in handling federal funds can lower a county's credit rating.

The county's total budget is around $30 million, including expenditures for the Road & Bridge and Social Services departments, which used to keep separate budgets.

By year-end, the county will keep one general ledger for all departments. Assistant auditor Sandy Rittgers has been heading up that major task with assistance from Highway accountant Rhonda Anstine.

Hoffman and county board members praised their efforts and patience.

The Heritage Community had a combined operating income of $56,135 at yearend.

"While Hubbard County is progressive in their technology and equipment needs, they also maximize the use of all equipment to assure the taxpayers they are not buying new equipment needlessly," the audit stated.

"The Commissioners support the department managers in their search for ways to provide better services to the taxpayers at a lesser expense by using technology rather than increasing staff," the report notes.

"The Hubbard County Board of Commissioners, elected officials and their department managers take very seriously the spending of taxpayer dollars," the report adds. "The departments have reduced their spending as much as possible while still providing the mandatory services to the taxpayers."

The report also pointed out that Hubbard County's unemployment rate, at 9.6 percent, is higher than the statewide rate of 5.7 percent and the national average of 8.3 percent.

In other business, the board:

n Heard a pitch from the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus to become a member. The group lobbies for rural interests at the Capitol and currently represents 23 counties.

Although the board listened to administrator Dan Larson, commissioner Lyle Robinson used the opportunity to once again push for PILT monies for lakes.

Robinson has been telling everyone possible that he wants the state legislature to start reimbursing small counties Payment in Lieu of Taxes funds for acres of water, the same as the state reimburses counties for tax-exempt land.

"That's where our costs are," Robinson told the slightly shaken lobbyist. "The counties with the most water have the most problems" fighting Aquatic Invasive Species, he said.

"We have 300 lakes," county board chair Dick Devine chimed in. "How in blazes is Hubbard County going to pay for policing 300 lakes?"

The board told Larson it would consider the offer, and the $2,100 dues required.

n Heard that so far 816 absentee ballots have been cast and 414 mail ballots sent out, signaling a busy election season. Sec. of State Mark Ritchie announced this week that 100,000 absentee ballots have been requested statewide and that 41,208 have already been returned by voters and accepted.

n Reported the results of the third and final salvage timber auction to clean up July storm damage in the northern part of the county. Four of five tracts sold at $36,024.75. The forestry department also was given approval to re-seed a 43-acre tract of land with jack pines at a cost of $1,400.

n Approved spending up to $32,164.92 to re-carpet the 911 dispatch center and purchase new work stations for dispatchers. Once again Sheriff Cory Aukes and board member Kathy Grell butted heads over the expenditure, which she said was exorbitant. Robinson interrupted the quarrel with a motion to spend the funds and let Grell, Aukes and Devine iron out the details.

n Learned that three-quarters of the way into 2012, Hubbard County Social Services expenses and revenues are both at 66 percent.

Social Services Director Daryl Bessler pointed out the alarming costs of children's out-of-home placement costs, which are at 180 percent as of the end of September.

"We're becoming a major funder of the juvenile center," he said. Programs to keep children in their homes have been implemented to help families under stress, so the placement costs, which fluctuate wildly, were disappointing, Bessler said.

But income maintenance intakes and requests have gone down slightly.

n Heard that County Attorney Don Dearstyne pulled his appearance on the agenda.

Presumably, Dearstyne wanted to discuss a previous suggestion to cut the Victim-Witness Coordinator position to three-quarters.

That is not possible, his office told the Enterprise. The funding is for a full-time advocate and if the position's hours are cut, the county would lose the grant money altogether.

The program regularly runs in the red and commissioners were looking for a way to absorb the loss.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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