The state’s audit of Barren County Fiscal Court indicates that a closer eye must be trained on how the county’s business is conducted.
State Auditor Adam Edelen revealed nothing fraudulent in fiscal court’s financial practices. Audits are intended to help public agencies and businesses improve the handling and documentation of assets and expenditures, and the findings nicked fiscal court and the Barren County jailer’s office for not following the best standard accounting practices, or for being unaware of available options to improve efficiency.
However, two items listed in the audit – which covered a period that ended in June 2012 – are the classic sorts of problems where the potential for poor decision-making lurks.
First, regarding the county’s purchase of three vehicles from a local dealership without a bid process, the county did not use a system that guaranteed the taxpayers the best value for their dollars. The county is required to follow procedures to ensure such an outcome for purchases greater than $20,000, according to a story by Daily Times reporter Melinda J. Overstreet.
“We just goofed,” Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer said, “but it was no big deal. [The auditors] took it into consideration that they told us [that]. We’ve learned, though, and we won’t do that again.”
We all want to trust our friends and neighbors. But those elected to manage the taxpayers’ money must guard not only against actual bad acts, but against the potential for them as well. We believe the best approach is to invite bids for all major purchases. When considering bids for equipment or services, the requirement is to accept the best and lowest proposal in order to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely. The bid process might be more time consuming, but spending time to save money is the prudent approach, in our view.
A second pathway to potential fraud was the lack of separation of duties in the jail’s commissary fund. Jailer Matt Mutter said in his response to the audit that the issue had largely been resolved with the hiring of a new bookkeeper. He also said, “the Jailer now requires dual signatures on all checks. Compensating controls have been implemented and will be documented to the best of our capability with the number of staff we have employed.”
Small government agencies and even small businesses are vulnerable to such issues. But it’s a vexing problem when controls aren’t in place, and the state’s audit clearly indicates room for improvement in county business.
Going forward, we encourage elected officials who take office in 2015 to turn fresh, focused and watchful eyes to the handling of the county’s money and assets, to the proper delineation of duties and to the adherence to state law and the best accounting practices.
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