Newton gets back on track

NEWTON – Township officials next month will take stock in how they are progressing after being placed in fiscal caution last October.

While some efforts have fallen through, the township continues to pour energy into righting its finances.

“In the end they have to balance their expenditures with their revenue. That’s the principle of it,” said Michael Maurer, spokes-man for Auditor of State Dave Yost, whose office will meet with the township in July to review its progress.

On Oct. 9 the township was placed in fiscal caution because of money issues with its general fund.

“Data as of April 30, 2012, shows four funds with deficit balances in the amount of $147,967. The deficits exceed 2 percent of estimated revenues by $145,562,” according to a release from Yost’s office.

Numbers were similar in 2011. This two percent deficit is one of several reasons why a local government can be placed in fiscal caution. Others include unauditable records that fail to be rectified in a specified timeframe and noncompliance with applicable laws.

Maurer said Newton Township has been “quite cooperative” with the auditor’s office and Local Government Services (LGS), which is a branch of the auditor’s office that helps local governments deal with financial issues. Newton reconciled its books, submitted budgets and switched its accounting system, all per the auditor’s request.

In order to work their way out of the cautionary state, Newton officials turned in a recovery plan to LGS in December. Completed are:

  • Passage of a 1/2 mill replacement and additional 1/2 mill fire levy;
  • Reappropriating 25 percent of the trustees’ and fiscal officer’s wages from the general fund to the road and bridge fund;
  • Increasing opening and closing fees at the cemeteries;
  • Elected officials opting out of dental/vision coverage;
  • Eliminating tie-ins for ditch pipes as a free service and
  • Reducing the number of zoning board meetings

Not completed are:

  • Proposing a concession on $250 per month for one employee to opt out of health care;
  • Leasing township property for gas and mineral rights;
  • Taking legal action against former fiscal officer and
  • Placing a 1/2 mill cemetery levy on the 2013 ballot

Completing the first six items has saved the township about $25,800 and increased revenue by an estimated $66,500 – most of which is coming from the fire levies.

Of the latter four items, as much cannot be said. Legal action against the formal fiscal officer, which the township hopes to get $10,000 out of, is still up in the air. The township employee declined to opt out of health care, which means the township will continue to pay roughly $8,000 annually.

As far as mineral rights go, trustee Peter Augusta said the trustees are still interested in the option. Trustees estimated in their plan that they would be able to bring in $30,000 annually from leasing the rights.

“In my mind it was a dicey subject, but I think we are still going to pursue it,” Augusta said.

Though no official action has been taken, Augusta also said trustees plan to place a cemetery levy on the November ballot again. The levy, which failed on the May ballot, was expected to be the largest new stream of revenue on the recovery plan at $65,000.

“While it is a setback, it doesn’t mean that they will move into a higher level of distress,” Maurer said of the levy failure.

Maurer said LGS regularly works with entities in fiscal distress to review how they are doing. He said recovery plans can be flexible and evolve over time. He said mainly it is important that the governments are making progress and that their plan is reasonable.

“This is where we are today. Have we made any progress?” he said.

So far, Montgomery said the township is keeping on track and is willing to evolve its plan while keeping its end goal of fiscal independence in sight. Township officials will be meeting with the auditor at the beginning of July and then with LGS later to review their progress.