A couple of citizen-based committees will help keep Tooele County’s financial recovery on an even keel after two years of an off-kilter budget that lead to layoffs, cuts, closures and the first tax increase in 27 years.
Tooele County Commissioners announced this week the formation of a budget advisory board and an audit committee.
“The committees will allow for more public input into the county’s financial decisions than just us three commissioners,” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne. “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.”
The budget advisory board will consist of seven to nine people who are appointed by the county commission. The board members will include one county elected official that is not a commissioner, one county merit employee, one representative of the business community, and possibly one non-elected county department head. The rest of the board will consist of other registered voters selected by the commissioners.
The board’s duties will include reviewing fiscal policies and procedures, reviewing proposed departmental budgets, and acting as a point of contact for citizen budget and financial concerns.
The board 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.
The audit committee will consist of three to five persons with a basic understanding of financial reports and independent auditing standards.
The committee will assist in preparing for the audit and will review the audit results with the external auditors and the county commissioners.
The audit committee will also act as an external independent contact for whistle-blowing and initiate investigations as needed.
The audit committee will meet at least twice a year, once to review the audit plan and once to review the audited financial statements.
Part of the audit committee’s job will be to help county commissioners understand and interpret the financial statements and audit reports, said Milne.
Audit committee members will receive a $1,000 annual stipend.
The audit committee’s composition and responsibilities were based on requirements for audit committees for publicly traded companies and modified for a government organization, according to Tooele County Treasurer Jeremy Walker.
The commissioners are currently accepting applications from people that want to serve on either committee.
Milne anticipates that the budget advisory committee positions will be filled in time for the committee to review the 2014 proposed budget before it is adopted by the commissioners at the end of the year.
The budget advisory board meetings are intended to be open to the public, while at least one of the audit committee’s meetings will be a private executive session with the external auditors and county management, he added.
The idea for both groups grew out of the series of town hall meetings held this summer, according to Walker.
“The dialogue in the town meetings made it evident that there were distinct parties within the county that want to give feedback on the budget,” he said. “This will allow for an ad hoc committee to provide feedback to the county’s governing body based on the budget.”
Declining revenues along with bond payments for the new jail caused the county commissioners to trim $5.4 million in expenses from the county budget since August 2012. The cuts led to a reduction of county staff from 418 to an estimated 295 — a 29 percent reduction.
County budget reductions closed the swimming pool at Deseret Peak Complex and open hours and guided tours at the historic Benson Gristmill. The county fair was cancled and the bookmobile service eliminated.
Cuts also resulted in the mass layoff of building maintenance, and parks and recreation staffs, the demise of the county’s economic development department, the county engineer, and the county HazMat team.
The emergency management and aging and adult services departments were reduced and folded into the health department. County relief services, the food bank, and domestic violence victims assistance programs handed over to Valley Mental Health.
In August the county commissioners approved a 66 percent tax increase, the first increase over the certified tax rate in for Tooele County property taxpayers in 27 years. The increase added $73 a year to the tax bill of the average $150,000 home. It will generate an additional $2.6 million in revenue that is slated for repayment of loans from internal funds used to support operations at Deseret Peak, strengthening the county’s fund balance, and establishing a capital projects fund.
County residents interested in serving on the audit committee or the budget advisory board can find information on the committees and an application for county boards and committees on the county’s website, www.co.tooele.ut.us, on the homepage under the “Boards and Committees” menu.