No red flags in city’s 2014 financial audit

By Jason Hawk -

Paying down long-term debt is helping Amherst to stay afloat in tough financial times.

Though city officials spent more than they made in 2014 to the tune of nearly $131,000, they also put $1.03 million against bonds and other obligations — and came out $710,525 ahead of where they ended in 2013.

Those are the findings of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report released Tuesday by Auditor of State Dave Yost’s office for calendar year 2014.

The 179-page document basically addresses the question, “How healthy is Amherst money-wise?”

“I think we’re holding our own,” said deputy auditor Gwen Melbar when posed with the same question. “We’re continually watching what comes in, what the county is able to give us, what the state is doing to make changes.”

Here are some highlights from the CAFR:

• Amherst’s net position improved to $33.3 million.

• Income tax revenues dropped by $149,791 (down 3.1 percent).

• The city’s general fund ended the year with a $2.5 million balance.

• The street improvement fund was spent down $575,500 to rest at $2.2 million.

• The city actually spent $130,793 more than it made — but even that was good news, since it was a better number than expected by about $190,600.

Cities aren’t legally allowed to operate at a deficit.

So though general government expenses were up roughly $123,000 and program expenses rose nearly $362,000 from the previous year, officials were able to stay in the black by charging slightly more for services and getting rid of old debt.

The CAFR did note two basic weaknesses with Amherst’s finances.

First, only about 20 percent of residents pay the city’s 1.5 percent income tax. Those who work outside the city are forgiven one percent of the amount due, with the remainder going solely to a special street paving fund.

Second, that income is fairly unstable, especially in a poor economy.

Property taxes are much more stable but only contribute about 18 percent of the city’s general revenues.

The good news is that income is on the rebound so far in 2015.

Income tax collections are up about 5.77 percent this year, amounting to an increase of $164,870, which mayor David Taylor said is helping his office breathe a little easier.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk