The following editorial is from today's Carroll County Independent .
Ground Hog Day in Carroll County?
It appears we were naive thinking that bringing
in an experienced county administrator and finance
director, catching up on the audits, putting
new financial policies and procedures in place,
and changing the county treasurer and two out of
three county commissioners would convince the
county delegation that it is time to stop the blame
Like Bill Murray in “Ground Hog Day,” we seem
to be stuck in a past that we can neither change
nor break out of.
Instead of focusing on setting goals and improving
county government to the benefit of taxpayers
and employees, the delegation continues to
waste time and resources on finding someone to
blame for past problems.
As of this writing we do not have the final 2017
budget. As they did last year, the delegation put the
budget to bed in Concord without a public hearing
county taxpayers could attend. So we don’t know
if it includes the famous time- and money-wasting
forensic audit that Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro)
Perhaps the fact that no one has
found any indication of defalcation or embezzlement
has taken the bloom off that attempt to assign
blame for poor management oversight.
In the meantime, however, Rep. Ed Comeau
(R-Brookfield) is still pursuing dental invoices
dating back years so he can drill down and establish
once and for all how much was paid for dental
premiums for dead, former and ineligible employees.
To what end?
It is clear that effective oversight of county finances
was missing for at least four years. We also
think it is equally clear that the person who was
responsible for the sloppy bookkeeping, including
the payment of insurance premiums that no one
double-checked, was in over her head, and nobody
seemed to notice that at the time. This was not a
person who set out to fix the books in her favor,
but someone who was not prepared to manage
without supervision the books of a $25-30 million
There were certainly signs that all was not
well. For four years there were no audited financial
statements. Revenues were failing to meet
budget due to collection problems but all of the
focus was on expenses. Even now, coming up with
a clear financial analysis of the county farm that
matches revenues with the expenses incurred to
produce them – as proper investment analysis requires
– has been unnecessarily difficult.
These problems were confounded by the bizarre
operating mode of the county where for 11
months of the year is was funded by a line of credit
which was repaid in December when towns paid
their county taxes. Imagine deliberately living off
of a credit card and incurring interest charges
year-in and year-out. No town in the state could or
would fund itself that way.
Unlike all of our towns
the county functions without capital reserves and
with no undesignated fund balance or rainy day
Add to this the fact that this $25-30 million enterprise
was managed overall by three part time
non-financial executives and you have the recipe
for the financial mess that resulted.
To us and most people we have discussed this
with, the right way to fix this is to take the steps
that have been taken since 2015: hire an experienced
county administrator and an equally experienced
financial manager to supervise daily
operations and take charge of financial management;
develop and put in place clear policies and
procedures for all administrative functions; close
the audit gap and make sure you have reliable records
to work with; and replace anyone not up to
their assigned responsibilities.
There is little to be gained by wading into the
sloppy performance of the past where all the lessons
it has to teach us are bad ones – especially
where the delegation itself bears as much responsibility
for budget woes and poor financial oversight
as the commissioners. It not only wastes
time and taxpayer money but distracts and burdens
those who are trying to put the house in order
and improve performance.
It is also foolish to make changes to county operations
like the farm based on poor quality information
We urge delegation members not to impose
a crippling budget that will once again cost taxpayers
more in the end by denying the resources
needed to fix the remaining problems. With better,
reliable information and better management to
work with, good decisions can be made.
Let’s focus on that and stop wasting time looking