Armed with enough numbers and reports to make most heads spin, Mayor Scott Avedisian announced yesterday that, for the 11th consecutive year, the city has received an “unqualified audit opinion of its finances.”
That’s positive news in the opinion of City Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski.
“In terms of independent audit evaluations,” Zmyslinski writes in a Feb. 20 memo to the mayor and members of the City Council, “this is the best mark we could receive.”
Zmyslinski goes on to highlight that the audit found, as of June 30, 2012, the city’s unassigned fund balance totaled $8.3 million. This is an increase of $2.3 million from the prior fiscal year.
That had Avedisian happy.
“I’d be happy with a surplus of one cent,” he said, “to say it’s $2.3 million is fantastic.”
The mayor said the strong financial report “shows [the] people who are running the [city’s] departments are taking it very seriously.” In particular, he singled out Col. Steven McCartney, chief of police, and David Picozzi, acting director of the Department of Public Works for keeping close tabs on their budgets and consistently coming in on budget or with a surplus. Public Works came in with a $1.2 million surplus for 2012. A persistent problem has been the Fire Department, where overtime costs have consistently exceeded what is budgeted. While Zmyslinski projects that will happen again in the current fiscal year, with the addition of two groups of firefighter trainees (a total of 38 in the next two years), future overtime costs will decline. As the city received a $3.1 million federal grant that will pay for salaries and benefits for new firefighters over the next three years, Avedisian is confident department expenses will come under control.
Also looking ahead, the mayor is hopeful the city will be reimbursed for expenses relating to the Blizzard of 2013. Of the $430,000 budgeted for snow removal, which includes overtime, sand and salt and outside contractors, only $93,000 remains in the account.
A School Department surplus of $2,872,057, which has been reserved for re-apportionment to schools in accordance with state law, accounts for a major portion of the overall increase to the city’s surplus. Other areas contributing to the surplus include $578,531 in unbudgeted revenues from building permits, interest fees on taxes, rescue service fees, grant income and the hotel/meal tax. The city’s surplus for the year totaled $2.1 million.
Many of the mayor’s comments focused on the city’s net assets of $53.3 million, which represents a combination of all the money and the value of city property. That amount does not include either the city’s water division or the Warwick Sewer Authority, which are separate enterprise funds. The amount reflects unfunded pension liabilities as well as debt owed on school and city bonds. It also includes an “amortized” amount for other post-employment benefits due to retired municipal employees.
The report puts the city’s total liability for bonds and loans payable at $170.1 million, a decrease of $11 million from the prior year.