Salisbury city audit finds welcome spike in surplus

Salisbury ended fiscal year 2019 with a $9.8 million surplus – a $2.4 million increase from 2018 – but officials will now have to use some of it to cover $815,000 in unbudgeted fire department expenses. 

City Council members got both the good and bad news during a Monday night work session, and Mayor Jake Day tried to put a positive spin on the situation.

“We still have the best reserve position we’ve ever had,” he said.

Accountants from PKS & Co. of Salisbury presented their report for the year ending June 30 and deliver a “no-note” audit that indicates the city is functioning well and that internal controls are effective and being followed.

The audit is Salisbury’s first to be completed by PKS, but it’s the third in a row with no findings or recommendations. 

“For the third year in a row, our audit has come back with no recommendations or findings, which is a remarkable accomplishment for any municipal government, but certainly for one of our size,” Day said. 

The audit showed the unassigned fund balance increased from $7.3 million in 2018 to $9.8 million in fiscal 2019, or an increase of more than $2.4 million. 

The city was able to achieve the increase while making investments in capital improvements and without imposing a tax rate increase in fiscal 2019.  

“Careful budgeting has resulted in surplus levels that meet best practices established for local governments,” Day said.  “We continue to seek ways to improve and refine our financial planning, but this increase in our unassigned fund balance shows us that we’re moving in the right direction.”

During the same meeting, Fire Chief John Tull requested a $740,000 amendment to the current year’s budget to replace 90 sets of self-contained breathing apparatus and 104 additional personal face masks for city firefighters.

The department, which operates out of three stations with both career and volunteer staff, submitted a request for the funding during the Capital Improvement Plan and Budget process and also submitted an application to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program through the Department of Homeland Security, but Tull said he recently learned the department’s request was denied.

The current equipment has reached its end of serviceable life in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association standards and must be replaced, he said.

Tull also requested a separate budget amendment of $75,000 for vehicle repairs because the department has had a significant shortfall in its vehicle account in recent years.

The money will be used to repair two trucks, one engine, two ambulances, one brush truck and an EMS vehicle.

Although more money has been added in previous budgets, Day told council members that the budget line for vehicles will need to be increased even more next year.

“It has increased, but not enough,” he said.

City Council members are expected to vote on both budget amendments at their next regular meeting on Dec. 9.

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