SORRENTO — Town officials and their auditor said a new audit shows Sorrento ended fiscal 2013-14 with a growing general fund surplus, a sign of upbeat financial health for the Ascension Parish community.
Higher sales and property tax revenues and lower expenses, due primarily to decreased public safety and general government costs, contributed to the improved bottom line, the annual audit says.
The town added $173,656 to its general fund surplus, boosting it to $777,138 by end of the fiscal year on June 30. About 45 percent of that surplus is not restricted and can go to any expense.
During the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Police Department underwent a dramatic decrease in operations as it lost liability insurance, officers left and the town’s chief resigned amid a criminal probe. The parish Sheriff’s Office provided police protection.
Since that fiscal year ended, voters abolished the department in November, and it appears the town will have completely put an end to the chief’s job and Police Department by late March.
While the general fund looked better in fiscal 2013-14, the utility fund, which encompasses revenues and expenses for sewer and garbage collection and revenues for water franchise fees, took a $78,835 loss due to $84,550 in depreciation of town equipment.
Town officials note the fund was nearly $1,900 to the good on a cash basis if depreciation expenses were taken out, though the audit also again cited the town, in its only finding, for trouble collecting utility bills from current and former customers.
“Everything considered, the town is in good financial shape,” Anthony Ruiz, certified public accountant with Postlethwaite and Netterville, told the Town Council Tuesday night.
Mayor Mike Lambert asked Ruiz how this audit compares with past audits of Sorrento.
Ruiz said past audits not only had the same finding about utility collections but also about collections for police tickets, which is no longer a town responsibility.
The audit says the town has $19,400 in delinquent accounts for its utility fund and auditors made allowances that those arrears may be “doubtful.” The audit notes, however, that the town lacks the ability to cut off services and that some of the past-due accounts are for customers who are no longer town utility users.
The town, in its response to the finding, said it has improved collection policies and now requires a three-months’ deposit from new customers.
Lambert and other town officials said Tuesday the town also sent out nearly 200 letters Jan. 15 to current and former utility customers with past due accounts.
“We’ve gotten a few responses so far, but not many,” Town Clerk Paige Robert said.
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