Bookkeeping fixes needed

Published 9:55 am Friday, October 2, 2009

It is almost like governmental deja vu: Different year, same tune. The county spends more than it has and uses flawed accounting and budgeting systems for an agency its size.

The 2008 audit was recently released by Auditor of State Mary Taylor showing the county had made some progress with its ongoing financial crisis but still had much work to do.

Perhaps the biggest recurring theme of caution from the auditors revolved around the fact the county relies too heavily on property and sales taxes as well as intergovernmental monies such as grants, and state aid simply to pay its month-to-month bills.

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“Since the property tax receipts do not grow at the same level as inflation and sales tax receipts are dependent upon the economy, the county will be faced with significant challenges over the next several years to contain costs and ultimately determine what options are available to the county to increase financial resources,” the auditors wrote.

But perhaps the biggest problem is the fact that the county continues to carry unpaid bills into the next year, has offices that sit on invoices for who knows how long and falls significantly behind on many of its payables as it waits for more revenue to roll it.

The state has urged the county to switch to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) instead of its cash basis of bookkeeping, though some of the commissioners are reluctant to do so because of additional expenses associated with this.

But at the very least the county must adopt bookkeeping practices that would require all bills to be paid by the end of the year. If this were coupled with a strictly enforced purchase order invoice system and the commissioners would create set-in-stone budgets for departments, it will pay off. Ultimately it will allow the county to have a more accurate picture of its finances.

Making changes now will make sure the county doesn’t repeat the same mistakes year after year.