Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lancing the boil

No audit report in May

The agenda for the May 4 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors is interesting for what it does not contain. A missing item, the final report of KPMG, the accounting firm retained to audit the county’s financial operations, is troubling.

Apparently, the audit is not yet complete. When first commissioned about a year ago, estimates of the time needed to complete the task were in weeks. Yet, the auditors have been hard at work for the better part of a year. This seems to indicate that the investigation into the county’s fiscal matters continues to uncover inconsistencies that impact everything else.

In March, Ron Churchman, the KPMG partner assigned to oversee the Goochland audit, gave the supervisors a taste of the contents of the final report. He was careful to qualify many of his comments to indicate that the auditors were not yet finished.

See his remarks in the draft minutes of the March 23 supervisors’ workshop included in the May 4 meeting packet. This is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us in the board of supervisors section. Though couched in the bland language of accounting, Churchman’s remarks about the county’s financial management before fiscal 2009 are chilling.

Although painful, and embarrassing, this audit must proceed to its logical conclusion. Like a boil whose poison can sicken an entire organism, the audit must be completed and inadequacies uncovered and corrected. That is the only way the county can clean up the mess that has infected it for years and move forward.

A recent anonymous comment to a previous entry on this blog suggested that the approximately $25 million general fund was an indication that the former county administrator had done a good job for Goochland. Unfortunately, under the previous regime, that fund was used as a cudgel.

Instead of planning ways to fund facilities to benefit the community in an orderly manner, the general fund was used to cover shortfalls in the annual smoke and mirrors budget process and pay for pet projects of those in favor.

One instance of that is the western convenience center. In spite of citizen objection to the location of the WCC, it was built in a location favored by District 1 supervisor Andrew Pryor. The county’s planning staff provided graphs and charts and maps in support of Pryor’s wishes, the public be, well, you know.

Another item that has yet to be addressed is the county’s bus maintenance facility. Talk about a festering boil.

The existing bus garage is so inadequate that bus tires must be deflated in order to permit entry into the old structures. The supervisors and school board have batted this project around for at least eight years and spent a good chunk of public change on professional fees for options under consideration. In the meantime, nothing has changed.
The latest chapter in this saga involves construction of a pre-engineered metal building on the present site. Unfortunately, the county’s overlay district rules severely discourage metal buildings.

Nevertheless, the county encouraged the school system to present a metal building to the county’s design review committee. As expected, the DRC ruled that a metal building could be acceptable only with expensive exterior modifications and extensive landscaping.

An idea presented during the brief tenure of interim county administrator Lane Ramsey to move the entire bus maintenance facility to the Hidden Rock Park area, outside of the overlay district, and put the metal building there, was mentioned once and evaporated.

Don’t like your job? Be glad you aren’t part of the bus maintenance crew. Right now the electrical system at the bus garage needs to be upgraded and its drain field is failing. The school board seems reluctant to spend the money needed to upgrade the electrical system and address the wastewater situation, possibly by connecting to county sewer lines.

The auditors must be permitted to follow their investigation wherever it leads. Any attempt to prematurely terminate the audit will enhance, rather than eradicate the miasma of mistrust that citizens have for local government.

Local elections are still far in the future. Incumbents still have a good chance that voters will forget the details of the audit, but only if it is allowed to proceed to its natural conclusion and the results posted in their entirety on the county website. If KPMG is told to wrap it up and get lost, the specter of mistrust will lurk at the polls in 2011.

When the audit is complete, the supervisors must work with the county attorney to determine if there is any legal recourse to recover all or part of the funds spent by Goochland to get its fiscal house in order, perhaps as much as $1 million.

If these actions are not taken, it will be a clear signal that the county has returned to its old ways.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is it true that the Board voted to demolish the Fairgrounds Building?

How sad. No community center.