The total value of county cash and investments has become an issue in the November General Election race for San Juan County Commissioner. Incumbent Republican Bruce Adams faces a challenge from Democrat Willie GreyEyes and non-party candidate Gail Johnson.
The value of county cash and investments has dropped during Adams’ tenure as commissioner. The Johnson campaign states that the amount of the drop ranges between $7.7 and $9.6 million. Adams counters that the drop has been significantly less than that.
An in-depth analysis of financial data shows that the value of cash and investments held by San Juan County has dropped by $5.7 million since Adams became a Commissioner, from $42.5 million in 2005 to $36.8 million in 2012.
Our goal this week is to provide correct information about the fund balance. Next week, the San Juan Record will provide space for the candidates to explain why the changes in the fund balance are important.
The county carefully tracks total cash and investments each month. Figures relating to the balance are readily available from the county.
In order to help voters more fully understand a very complex issue, the San Juan Record has analyzed data related to the accounts, with particular attention over the past seven years, since Adams became a Commissioner in 2005.
In the 1990s, by using a trust fund that was approved by the state legislature and by building the account balance in a number of other funds, the county fund balance grew dramatically. Over a 10-year period, the value of cash and investments grew from less than $25 million in 1994 to a peak of $44.7 million in 2003.
The accounts are not just savings accounts, but include the accounts through which the county operates. As a result, the total amount in the funds can vary widely from month to month through day-to-day operations. The value has changed by nearly $2 million in a month in some instances. To smooth out the variability, the analysis includes the fund balance figures from January 1 of each year.
The analysis shows that over the past seven years, since Adams became commissioner, the fund balance dropped from a high of $42.5 million in January, 2005 to a low of $36.4 million in 2010. The balance on January 1, 2012 was $36.8 million.
On January 1, 2005, when Adams became a Commissioner, the fund balance of $42.5 million had already dropped by $2.2 million from its peak in 2003.
The funds experienced an additional significant drop of $3.8 million during the first year that Adams was Commissioner. On January 1, 2006, when the first Adams-approved budget was implemented, the fund balance was $38.7 million.
In 2007, when Kenneth Maryboy became a commissioner, the total fund balance was $38.3 million. One year later, when the first Maryboy-approved budget was implemented, the fund balance was $39.7 million.
On January 1, 2010, when Phil Lyman joined the commission, the total fund balance was $36.9 million. One year later, when the first Lyman-approved budget was implemented, the fund balance was $36.8 million.
More than ten separate accounts contribute to the cash balance held by San Juan County. The key accounts include the General fund account, through which the majority of county services are funded.
The General fund had $11.5 million in expenditures in 2011. Approximately half of the funding comes from local taxes, with significant additional funding from federal payments in lieu of taxes and revenue from housing state prison inmates.
The General fund balance varies significantly through the year, with a major intake when property taxes are collected in November. The balance generally ranges from $2.5 to $5.5 million. The account had a $5.3 million balance on January 1, 2012.
The B Road fund is the largest single fund, with a balance of more than $15 million on January 1, 2012. It is designated for roadwork. The State of Utah and the Bureau of Indian Affairs provide the bulk of funding for the account. In 2011, the B Road fund had $8.5 million in expenditures.
Over the past twelve years, the B Road fund balance has ranged from $13.5 million to $17.6 million. The account had a $15.1 million balance on January 1, 2012.
In the 1980s, the Utah legislature allowed the county to create a Tax Stability fund. A total of $7.5 million is set aside as a trust fund, the only true “trust fund” in the fund balance.
In 2011, the Tax Stability fund generated approximately $40,000 a year in interest revenue. When interest rates are higher, the fund can generate a significant amount of interest revenue for the county General fund.
A Road Capital fund currently has a $4 million fund balance. These funds are set aside for capital projects relating to roads, including equipment. The fund balance has ranged from $6.7 million to $4 million over the past twelve years.
A Capital Projects fund carried a $7,227,468 balance in 2005. The 2012 balance was $2,157,532. There were minimal revenues for this fund in 2011.
The Health Care fund carried a $791,309 balance in 2005. The 2012 balance was $453,852. Expenditures in this account include public health, mental health and substance abuse. Total property tax revenue for this fund was close to $200,000 in 2011.
The Emergency Medical Services fund carried a $435,984 balance in 2005. In 2012, the fund carried a deficit balance of $152,361. EMS generated $430,000 in fee revenue in 2011. A $200,000 grant had not yet been received by January 1, 2012, which accounts for the deficit balance in the account.
Two smaller funds have grown over the past seven years. The Library fund grew from $302,554 in 2005 to $943,334 in 2012. Property taxes contribute the bulk of revenue for the libraries.
The Solid Waste fund has grown from $828,335 in 2005 to $1,561,348 in 2012. The Solid Waste account generates approximately $500,000 a year in disposal fee revenue.
Other minor accounts that make up the fund balance include the Historical Commission and Tort Liability funds.
In the past, the county carried up to $803,557 in a Debt Service fund. The balance was moved to zero after the annual audit in 2005. According to County Auditor John Fellmeth, in order to compare “apples to apples”, the Debt Service balance prior to 2005 should not be used.
Once again, stay tuned next week, when the candidates have been welcomed to explain why changes in the county fund balance are an important election issue.