Performance audit process under way

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 14, 2007

How thorough do you want us to be?

That was the essential question state officials asked Lawrence County Commissioners Tuesday regarding their requested performance audit.

The local leaders asked the Ohio Auditor’s Office to evaluate county finances and make recommendations for saving money. Staffing? The general fund? Revenue streams? State auditors asked what all the county leaders want included in their audit.

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“What we’d like is a clear understanding of how comprehensive you’d like us to be,” Betsy Bashore, assistant chief auditor for the state, said.

Penning said the meeting Tuesday was meant for the state auditors to explain what they do and for local officials to give them some idea of what aspects of county finances and operations should be given attention. Once the two sides agree on the scope — and the cost — of the project, then the auditors will get down to business with the books.

“In a nutshell, what we do is a comparative analysis of governmental operations. We look at your operations and compare the to operations in similar entities in other parts of the state,” Penning said. “We also look at best practices and industry standards and ultimately draw conclusions based on comparison of your data to others. Our goal is to be a resource to you and identify areas where you’re doing well and areas where you could improve.”

Commissioners told auditors that while they have managed to balance the budget in recent years, it has not come without a lot of work and headaches.

“We have cut costs in a lot of areas,” Commissioner Doug Malone said. “But still, insurance rates have gone through the roof and (operating) the jail is costing a lot of money. We want to see where you think we could trim.”

Trimming costs has been a key concern for commissioners in recent years and most particularly in recent months. A recent budget crunch was what led to the request for the audit.

“Right now we’re right at a half a million dollars short and our immediate concern is getting that half-million but in the long term, we just can’t keep doing this,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

Bashore said performance audits can take anywhere from four months to a year, depending on how involved they are. State officials will give updates every 4-6 weeks on how things are going during the audit process.

Penning said recommendations will be practical and attainable in the long term if not the short term.

The state conducts approximately 25-30 such audits a year.