Metro-East News

Audit: St. Clair County runs overall deficit in 2014

St. Clair County again ran a deficit in 2014, according to its recently released audit.

The county had a $3.8 million deficit in 2014 — an improvement from the $5.5 million deficit it ran in 2013.

Fiscal year 2014 was the second consecutive year the county has run a deficit, but St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said the county is “financially healthy to absorb the shortfall.

“We can continue to operate in a fiscally responsible fashion,” Kern said.

MidAmerica Airport also lost money in 2014. The airport also had to receive a $7.5 million injection from the county, but still had a net decrease of $4 million in assets, when including depreciation.

As part of the transfer into the airport, $5 million was used to help pay off debt, county financial analyst Sue Schmidt said.

$3.8 million The 2014 government activities deficit for St. Clair County

Under governmental activities, she said charges for services increased, and there was a drop in landfill revenue but that was offset with an increase in contract work for MetroLink.

Operating grants and contributions were up as well, Schmidt said, and the Circuit Clerk’s office is collecting more revenue.

Sales tax revenue increased slightly in 2014, “but our state income tax and our personal property replacement tax was down as the state continues to take more and more little bites out of our tax revenues,” Schmidt said.

The county had $102 million general government activity expenses in 2014. That was up from $97.9 million the previous year.

The increase was due mainly to projects carried out by the highway department, Schmidt said.

“Most other areas were pretty much flat,” Schmidt said.

Once again we’re going to cut expenses to get closer to meet revenues. The economy is coming around, sales tax is inching up, which is a good thing. We just continue on the path that we are, the county is fiscally sound.

Mark Kern, St. Clair County Board chairman

Despite the airport deficit, county officials say there is improvement in airport activities.

In 2014 there was an increase in charges for service, more flights, and more passengers, which qualifies the airport for more grant revenue, Schmidt said.

Allegiant Air recently announced it would offer twice-weekly service to Las Vegas beginning in November.

As 2015 comes to a end county employees are beginning to put together a budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

Kern said he will recommend not raising property taxes for the next year’s budget.

“Once again we’re going to cut expenses to get closer to meet revenues,” Kern said. “The economy is coming around, sales tax is inching up, which is a good thing. We just continue on the path that we are, the county is fiscally sound.”

There has been a hiring freeze in place at the county for a number of months in order to help save money, Kern said.

“Every position is evaluated,” Kern said. “If we can find a way to be more efficient, we do.”

Annual audit issues

Although the county has received clean audits with no material findings, there is one issue that has now caught the state’s attention.

The county has traditionally received an “adverse opinion” on its audits, because it has separate audits done for the Public Building Commission, the Intergovernmental Grants Department, and St. Clair County Flood Prevention District, as well as the audit for general county operations.

Scheffel Boyle handles the county’s main audit, as well as the Public Building Commission and Flood Prevention District. Auditing firm WIPFLi handles the audit of the Intergovernmental Grants Department.

$7.5 million The amount of money transferred into MidAmerica Airport from St. Clair County

Kern defended the county’s practice of having multiple auditors instead of just one.

“The county has audited its books this way forever,” Kern said. “Rather than just have one auditing firm do all the audits, we feel that having multiple sets of eyes, giving us multiple opinions is a good thing.”

“We have a few auditors audit departments, and they keep watch over each other,” Kern added.

All the auditors can’t verify work of other auditors, but they are all certified CPAs, Kern said.

“We believe we’re doing everything to the spirit of the law,” he said. “We have everything audited and all those audits are clean.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter