In an editorial published on Aug. 27, we noted that the five town hall meetings, conducted during the summer by the Tooele County Commission to inform residents about a proposed tax increase, had created two distinct, positive outcomes:
A new level of transparency, and heightened citizen involvement.
We also urged in the same editorial that, although the town hall meetings and tax vote were over, the issue was far from “finished.” The commissioners’ budget recovery plan, which uses every cent of the tax increase, is designed to take three to five years to repay $6.5 million in interdepartmental loans and rebuild funds.
Because of the well-known reasons behind the tax increase, and the years it will take for the county budget to recover, the editorial further advocated for the commissioners to hold frequent meetings to update citizens on the county’s financial progress, or lack thereof.
But we didn’t stop there. We also challenged the commissioners to create a citizen oversight board to independently scrutinize the county’s budget during and even after the financial recovery. This, we recommended, would not only hasten the road to fiscal recovery but also rebuild public trust.
Which explains why we were delighted to report last Thursday that the commissioners were evidently thinking the same way. In the story, “Review committees will help county stay out of the red,” the commissioners announced they would create two citizen-based committees to help keep the county’s road to financial recovery—after layoffs, cuts and closures that lead to the first county tax increase in 27 years—on the right track.
In fact the commissioners are taking the matter a few steps more by forming a budget advisory board and an audit committee. As reported the board will review fiscal policies, procedures and proposed departmental budgets, and act as a point of contact for citizen budget and financial concerns. It will meet at least five times a year, including quarterly meetings to review budget reports, and once in October to discuss the budget for the coming year.
Also as reported, the audit committee will assist in preparing the audit and will review its results with external auditors and the commissioners. The committee will also act as an external independent contact for whistle-blowing and initiate investigations as needed. It will meet at least twice a year, once to review the audit plan and once to review the audited financial statements.
The budget advisory board will consist of seven to nine people, while the audit committee will consist of three to five with a basic understanding of financial reports and independent auditing standards. Both groups will be appointed by the commissioners. Applications are being accepted from the public now.
Commissioner Shawn Milne summarized in last Thursday’s article, “The committees will allow for more public input into the county’s financial decisions than just us three commissioners. The budget committee will provide for additional opportunities for the public to guide the prioritizing of the county’s resources, while the audit committee allows for us to bring in local experts to look at the audit process and results.”
Both committees are a wise move by the commissioners to keep the county budget’s recovery process front and center. Better still, they should maintain a good eye of transparency and citizen involvement that resulted from last summer’s town hall meetings.