August 3, 2008

Audit: County Budget in the Black

By Patti Dozier, Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Ga.

Aug. 3--THOMASVILLE -- The bottom line in the 2007 audit of Thomas County government is black ink.

However, Darrell Mills, the Thomasville certified public accountant (CPA) who conducted the audit, advised commissioners Friday morning about a study.

At the end of a two-hour meeting of the commission finance committee, Mike Stephenson, county manager summed up audit financial findings.

"Overall, you're $457,000 under budgeted expenses," he told commissioners.

Post-employment benefits should be considered by the board, Mills said.

When county employees retire, they can remain on the county health insurance plan -- at a cost -- until they reach 65, the eligibility age for Medicare.

Mills said commissioners should look at the future costs of people employed by county government today.

"You're projecting how many benefits you're providing for employees you have today," the CPA said.

The board should hire an actuary to conduct a study every two years. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board, a group of accountants that devises generally accepted accounting principles for government, wants the projected amount funded in an irrevocable trust.

"I don't know how big that number is going to be for Thomas County," Mills said.

The process should begin now, he said.

"I think we ought to at least start the process," Commissioner Claud Davis said.

Stephenson said that in Texas, state government said "not to worry about it, and don't do it."

Stephenson said he did not think the cost would be significant for county government. County employees traditionally retire in their 60s and are not on the county health plan for long, he told commissioners.

Commissioner Louis Rehberg pointed out some employees will quit before retirement age.

The finance committee will recommend to the full board that staff be directed to look for an actuarial firm. The estimated cost of the study is $15,000 to $25,000.

An actuary computes insurance risks and premiums.

After the meeting, Stephenson said state law requires an audit of county governments.

The 2007 audit cost $52,500.

The auditor must follow standards if the state is to accept Thomas County audit results, Stephenson said.

"If New York City catches a cold, they're going to give us an aspirin," he added.


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