A third-party financial review of the city of Pickens

By Mayor David Owens, City of Pickens

PIckens Mayor David Owens

PIckens Mayor David Owens

On Sept. 9, Greene, Finney and Horton, LLP, the city’s external auditors, presented their summary of the audit for the 2013 financial statements.

As you may know, all city and county governments in South Carolina must be audited annually by an independent, qualified third party. This provides a reasonable assurance to the council and citizens of Pickens of the city’s current financial status. As the mayor of our great city, I wanted to share some of the highlights and take a moment to thank our current city council, finance director, city administrator, and staff for all of their hard work this year which resulted in a clean audit with the best opinion a city can be given by its auditors — an “unmodified opinion.” We all work as a team daily to ensure we get a healthy financial report each year while delivering quality services to the citizens of Pickens. To read the full audit and supporting documents, please go to

Overall and citywide, the city had total capital asset additions of $3.6 million for the year ended April 30, 2013. As of April 30, some of the significant projects were started or completed during 2013 were as follows:

$2.29M in water plant and system upgrades;

$166k in new water lines on Boggs Road and $140k in sewer system upgrades (once complete in 2013-2014 we will have spent well over $500k combined for these two projects);

$301k in construction at the amphitheater as of April 30;

$249k at the Senior Center (this includes a parking lot upgrade);

$170k in new fire equipment (fire department was very successful with a number of grants this year for capital equipment).

Last year, the city was awarded approximately $1.2 million in grant funds — which went towards some of these projects — and you will see more grants next year to offset costs for citizens. There was also approximately $500k in progress at April 30 — so the improvements continue! What you can expect to see on this list next year is the completion of more sewer lines totaling approximately $300k, sidewalk replacement and additions of approximately $200k, and the completion of the Boggs Road line, which will total more than $200k.

If you are interested in what water and sewer projects are coming up, you can see our Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan in the back of the city budget at Every department contributes to this plan, and it’s a guide for future purchases and investments that need to be planned for and carefully budgeted.

On the general operations side of the city, we have a savings (or emergency fund) officially called “unassigned fund balance” that is extremely healthy at $1.3M, or 44 percent of expenditures. To give you a better understanding of this number in context, Pickens County had a 60 percent fund balance at the end of their last audit in 2012. So our 44 percent unassigned fund balance is healthy, but it is not uncommon or “too much.” City council has a written policy on how much we will keep as a balance, and this helps ensure we live within our means year to year during the budget process. This demonstrates that this council and administration is making sure to save money and keep the city protected in the case of an emergency, while still funding ongoing operations and working on new capital investments. The reason it’s important to have a healthy fund balance is to help with cash flow throughout the year, be prepared for unexpected emergency expenditures or shortfalls in revenue, potential for better interest rate on debt issues which saves the City money, and even more important because we are still living in uncertain economic times. Other highlights in our yearend financial audit was that due to the large number of grants we were awarded in this past fiscal year ($1.2 million!), we created a new separate fund to account for the money and ensure its properly spent.

In addition, a hospitality tax fund was created to make it easier for citizens and council to see where hospitality tax funds were being spent. Hospitality tax is a 2 percent tax on prepared food and beverages which is in almost every city and county in the state. These funds are restricted by state law on what it can be used for and it must be tourism-related. This past year, we used these funds towards ongoing payments on our recreation center which hosts many regional tournaments, our new amphitheater and its events, the beginning of the Pickens Doodle Line purchase and Town Creek Bike Park. These funds can also be used for ongoing maintenance of these facilities and the events we host in downtown Pickens.

In conclusion, another great year full of new water and sewer improvements, and as of April 30 the amphitheater, Doodle purchase and Town Creek Bike Park were well under way with the first two completed at the time of this writing.

This current 2013-2014 year will be another year of progress for the city, and we will continue to improve all of the city’s core infrastructure while pushing forward on tourism-related projects that will help bring people to our city and our downtown businesses and restaurants. We are proud to have been able to keep our city fire department for our citizens to ensure they continue to have quality fire protection with a low ISO rating that is under the direction of the city council. We are also excited that Pickens County is adding three additional fire stations in close proximity to the city, which will benefit everyone as we continue to work together and enjoy a great partnership.

Each year we look for ways to operate more efficiently and find ways to use technology to work smarter. We are taking a hard look at the way things “have always been done” to make sure it’s still the most cost effective and quality way to deliver services to our businesses and citizens.