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Lee audit uncovers surplus

LEESBURG -- CPA Bill Rambo's description Wednesday of the Lee County Finance department's successful audit for Fiscal Year 2009 is perhaps as apt as any.

"They did a great job in a year of anxiety," said Rambo, who with Geer & Associates colleague Nicole Ranew presented audit findings to the Lee County Commission Tuesday night.

The surprisingly positive audit outcome for the county included a surplus of $620,000 that, when coupled with the non-use of $1.2 million in reserve funds that had been budgeted, gave Lee what Rambo called a "$1.8 million turnaround."

Lee Finance Director Heather Kittrell, who was involved in her first audit as the county's CFO and drew praise from Rambo and County Administrator Alan Ours for her work, said Wednesday the surplus allowed the county to build its once nonexistent reserve funds to $6.4 million.

"I guess you can say I'm really frugal," Kittrell laughed Wednesday. "They joke about it around here, but I like to have a firm grasp on the figures. I'm like that at home; it drives my husband crazy."

In addition to the budget surplus, Rambo and Ranew pointed out that they'd noted only one "insignificant finding" in their work on the audit, which they started in mid-September and sent to the state Department of Revenue a few days before the Dec. 31 deadline.

"Alan Ours is a great administrator, and you really have to praise Heather Kittrell for the work she's done in her year as CFO," Rambo said. "The improvements made in the accounting department (under her leadership) were significant."

Ours said the impressive audit was not an act of fate. He credited all involved with the process.

"The first step in the process is for the Board of Commissioners to be engaged in financial policies and directives," Ours said. "Our Board is involved, and they set the financial priorities for the county. We are also fortunate that through the cooperative spirit among the department heads and elected officials, we were able to curtail spending, able to accomplish the same things at lower costs.

"Our department heads managed their individual budgets well; for example, in August of 2008 before the recession kicked in, sound financial measures were put in place. Fortunately, our department heads understood the economic realities that we faced, and they worked diligently to control spending."

Kittrell, who became interim finance director in October 2008 and was moved into the position permanently in March '09, said there might have been a bit of luck mixed in with the good practices that allowed the county to fare so well with its audit.

"It takes good management, sure, but there's a little luck in there, too," she said of the report on the $20,705,799 budget. "We put off buying some things, and we did not have any major equipment breakdowns during the fiscal year. We usually budget some reserve funding expecting those kinds of things to happen, but we didn't have to use those funds this year.

"That's very important because we were able to build our reserves. A few years ago, the county didn't have any."

Rambo, who had worked as a CPA for such companies as Price/Waterhouse and Draffin & Tucker for 35 years before being talked out of retirement by Geer & Associates in 2008, said he will meet with Ours and Kittrell soon to discuss all audit findings and any possible concerns issued by the Department of Revenue.