A financial reserve policy is recommended by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and is intended to ensure that the county has sufficient resources for future operating needs. The policy should be designed to protect from temporary revenue shortfalls and unforeseen emergencies. Such a policy is good planning. After all, it was just a few short years ago when the county had to take out a loan to make payroll because there were insufficient funds in the bank.
Simply explained, the current Fund Balance Policy uses 15% of the total operating budget from all funding sources, plus one month’s average cash flow required, and establishes a total level of reserve-NEED for the coming year. Recent calculations place the reserve-NEED between $12-$13M; ~3 months’ worth with which to operate the county.
Backing up the reserve-NEED becomes most critical to ensure that we have enough funding to keep the county operating without interruption. Contrary to what many in the county believe, there is no pot of cash set aside that backs up the reserve-NEED. Surprised?
The “reserve balance”, which is intended to back up the reserve-NEED, is calculated by subtracting the value of all county liabilities, from all county Assets and is much like determining the net worth of the County at the end of the fiscal year (June 30th). The assets included in this calculation combine the level of cash accounts, buildings, vehicles, and other tangibles. This calculation is very important, because we only operate the county on CASH!
The risk of using the current reserve balance calculation is that it falsely inflates the resources available to back up the reserve-NEED. There is no better example of this than during the 2012 budget discussions when the public was told that there was $17-$19M (depending on who you ask) in the “rainy-day fund”. Understandably, this caused much turmoil concerning school funding and created the impression that there was more cash available than there really was in the bank. The truth is, there never was $17-$19M in a “rainy-day fund”, available for use towards county operations.
The following graph represents the disparity between the reserve-NEED (per the policy), versus the cash resources required to back up the NEED, since 2010.
Discussions about the current reserve policy by the members of the Board of Supervisors have begun. One Supervisor has suggested changing the reserve-NEED calculation to only include the local funding portion of the budget, leaving out major expenses funded by the state, federal, and grant sources. This change would undermine the entire purpose of having a reserve policy, which is to fund county operations in the event of temporary revenue shortfalls and unforeseen emergencies! Do we not believe that funding shortfalls could include sources from the state, federal, or grant, as well as the local portion of our county budget?
Any changes to the Reserve Balance Policy proposed by the BOS must neither lower the standard of required-NEED to fund our entire budget nor rest the value of the reserve fund on unrealistic measures to make us all feel better about our circumstances. The average cash on hand, according to the Greene County Treasurers Office, for FY15, was ~$10M, which does not account for outstanding payments that have not cleared the county checking account.
For now, the only real question to ask the BOS is, "Does the County have enough CASH reserves available to operate, without interruption, for 3 months?" Currently, the answer is, "NO."
Cash is king in the real world, and Greene County should base its short-term reserves on it. Other well-run counties across the Commonwealth do!
-- Bob Young