The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 22, 2013

BE County’s $2.3M deficit was actually $3.8M surplus

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Blue Earth County budgeted for a $2.3 million deficit in 2012. It ended up with a $3.8 million surplus.

The explanation isn’t quite as exciting as some unearthed stash of cash: It hinges on the difference between the cash basis and accrual basis forms of accounting.

Ahem.

Actually, the surplus is the result of that accounting oddity as well as conservative budgeting, County Administrator Bob Meyer said.

The county planned for a deficit in 2012 because it agreed to advance-fund about $2.5 million of the County Road 12 project and get paid back by the state over five years. But the state found a way to pay the county back in 2012, more or less erasing the projected deficit.

The county also ended up paying about $500,000 less on health insurance than it expected, he said.

“We had a good year,” he said.

The county also pushed some projects from 2012 into 2013, such as a $250,000 project to install sprinklers in the government center, Meyer said.

And that’s where the oddity comes in — most private budgets use the accrual basis of accounting, meaning the sprinkler project could be listed as a 2012 expenditure even though the money wasn’t actually spent yet.

But the county, like other governments, is required to use the cash basis of accounting, which means the expenditure has to be listed in the year during which the money is actually spent. This puts the sprinkler project in 2013, which makes the 2012 budget look good even though nothing of substance has changed.

Despite the shifted spending, the county spent almost exactly as much (99 percent as much, to be precise) in 2012 as it budgeted for, in late 2011.

There were also unexpected revenues, such as a $300,000 surplus in the “miscellaneous” part of the budget, which is mostly from fees. The county also received more grants than it budgeted for — more than $1 million in total grants — for its radio upgrade.

Those two examples are a result of conservative budgeting, Meyer said. It’s better to shoot low and exceed your target than aim high and come up short.

One disappointment was the interest the county received on its investments, which fell to $1.35 million, compared with $3.96 million in 2011. The county had budgeted to receive $1.75 million in 2012, and budgeted for $1.5 million in 2013.