Collier government audit comes up clean, as does audit of auditors

— Auditors say the numbers are clean. So do the auditors’ auditor.

Consequently, Collier County leaders and commissioners are happy. This year.

A more than 400-page look at last year’s spending has raised few questions among auditors, commissioners or residents.

Every few years, the accounting firm hired by county government to audit its finances has to be audited by yet another firm.

Called a peer review, it is a double set of controls, so to speak.

So, Ernst and Young in Tampa continued to audit Collier’s accounts, and, this year, KPMG in New York, audited Ernst and Young’s audit.

Accounts were in good shape for the year that ended on Sept. 30, both firms concurred.

Taxable property market value for Collier County was slightly more than $82.5 billion, or $248.05 per capita, a figure considered favorable when compared with the rest of the state and nation. That’s according to Collier Clerk of Courts and Chief Financial Officer Dwight Brock; Crystal Kinzel, deputy clerk and director of finance and accounting; and fellow deputy clerk Derek Johnssen.

Collier County government’s assets exceeded its liabilities by $2.3 billion.

Of that amount, $312.8 million represents unrestricted net assets and can be used to meet future county financial obligations.

The county’s total net assets increased by $141 million as compared with assets in 2007: $82 million of the increase resulted from government activities, while $58.9 million resulted from business-related activities.

According to Ernst and Young analysts, changes in net assets over time are a useful indicator in assessing financial condition.

The news about the county’s general operating fund unreserved fund balance wasn’t as good.

As of Sept. 30, the county’s balance was $61.9 million, a decrease of $15.6 million compared with the year that ended Sept. 30, 2007.

In 2008, the county reported $780.4 million in net assets revenue, a 13.1 percent decrease from the $898.1 million collected in 2007.

Prudent budgeting kept the increase in net asset expenses to 2.9 percent, from $618.2 million in 2007 to $636.1 million in 2008.

However, auditors took notice of the county’s reserves.

On Sept. 30, the county’s total general fund with assets had $68.55 million, a decrease of $12.77 million – or 16 percent -– compared to the balance a year before.

The Feb. 8, 2009, memo from Ernst and Young auditors to Brock stated that there were no violations of laws, rules, regulations or contractual provisions or abuse, no improper or illegal expenditures, no financial control deficiencies other than some recommendations for more transparent internal controls.

In 2007, auditors noticed reclassifications in reporting revenue and expenses, and other modifications.

“These differences should have been identified by management through a more effective financial statement close process,” states the auditor’s letter to Brock.

The audit is signed by Ernst and Young as a company, but John DiSanto presented the report to Collier County commissioners this past week.

While the audit wasn’t discussed at a Wednesday night Town Hall meeting in East Naples, County Manager Jim Mudd put residents on notice that taxable property value continues to decline.

In December, state agencies originally predicted Collier County would see a 14 percent decline in property value. This month, the state notified Mudd that the decline is going to be closer to 23 percent.

“We won’t know for sure until you get your TRIM notices,” Mudd said Wednesday, referring to truth-in-millage explanations mailed out to all property owners.

However, he is taking no chances: Mudd has asked all departments to slash their budgets by 25 percent.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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