"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Alexander Hamilton

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ground Hog Day in Carroll County?

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 game. 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) proposed.

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 enterprise.
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 fund. 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 and bias. 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 backwards.

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