Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

October 21, 2014
Hired finance officer is county’s best hope

In recent editions of the Transcript-Bulletin there have been reports about the commission’s decision to fund and begin the hiring process for a finance director.

To clarify, the proposed finance director will be in charge of budgeting, accounting, purchasing, accounts payable and financial analysis for the county. These duties are currently the responsibility of the Tooele County Auditor and will be the responsibility of the new office of Tooele County Clerk/Auditor starting in 2015 — unless reassigned to a finance officer by the county commission.

If those duties are reassigned, the clerk/auditor will still be responsible for internal auditing, calculating the certified tax rate, performing the annual tax sale, and serving as clerk to the Board of Equalization.

The candidates for county commission have been quoted saying they will not support the creation of this position. One candidate even went on the record to say that if the position is filled, he will “undo” that action in the first five minutes of his term.

Let me remind everyone of a few relevant facts.

1. The commissioners were encouraged to create this position by three separate bodies of professionals: The external auditing firm (CPAs), the county audit committee (5 local CPAs) and the county budget advisory board. This recommendation came after each of these groups spent scores of hours analyzing the effectiveness of the county’s financial processes and all independently came to the same conclusion.

2. Executives in all other governments appoint their finance officers. Currently, county governments with the traditional commission structure, are the only government where the financial officer is elected. However, that will change as the state legislature has allowed all counties to appoint a finance officer beginning in 2015.

3. The timeline for selecting the finance director was intentionally created to assure that the newly elected commissioners would have the opportunity to participate in the selection of the individual who will fill this position. Thus, the incoming commissioners will not be shackled with someone selected by the outgoing commissioners.

4. There is no evidence that an elected finance officer is superior to an appointed one. Unlike other technical elected offices at the county level, there are no requirements for the clerk/auditor to have any training, certification, education or experience.

5. Separating the accounting function from the audit function strengthens internal controls and the segregation of duties. When the auditor and the finance officer is the same person, they would be auditing their own work. This conflict of interest removes the incentive for the auditor to look for, and disclose, errors or violations of policy within their own office.

I am baffled at the reasons the remaining candidates for county commission have to contest this common sense proposal. I’m curious to know what research they have done or what professional insights they might have to counter the recommendations of those three bodies referenced above.

Since the commissioners are ultimately responsible for the budget, let’s assure that they have a professionally qualified individual to provide them with timely and accurate information; someone who will interpret numerical data and advise them with sound financial training and practical experience.

This aligns accountability for the budget with control over every aspect of its creation and execution. It will force the commissioners to take full responsibility for the fiscal performance of the county. No more silence or finger pointing when asked to justify proposed large expenditures with detailed analysis or explain variation from budgetary projections. Let’s give them the best tools available to do the most important part of their job: managing our tax dollars prudently and transparently.

It is clear that the appointment of a qualified finance officer gives Tooele County its best hope for staying out of financial trouble. Nobody wins if we refuse to learn from our mistakes and knowingly revert back to the approach that created our financial crisis. A solvent, well-managed county government is certainly a winning proposition for all of us. If you agree, please speak up and let the current commissioners and commission candidates know of your support for creating this position.

 

Jeremy A. Walker is the Tooele County Treasurer

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