Friday, November 5, 2010

Watching the paint dry

Supervisors slog though tedious meeting

At their regular monthly meeting on November 3 Goochland County’s supervisors addressed a myriad of routine matters.

Ned Creasey District 3 was absent, recovering from surgery. Please pray for his swift and complete recovery.

George Gill, chairman of the board of director of Goochland’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program presented a brief overview of the program. Its function is to act as the voice of abused and neglected children and ears of the court in situations to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the child. The non-profit program is funded by grants and donations and overseen by the court.

Extraordinarily dedicated volunteers give their time, talent and compassion to help children. He introduced Anne Casey the CASA executive director who said that more volunteers are needed and classes begin in January. For more information about being part of this program, contact the CASA office at 556-5876.

Discussion of a land purchase by the county was deferred to the December board meeting when all of the details will be in place. This is a major change in board proceedings. The supervisors should be commended for this step toward government transparency.

Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay reported that a home was destroyed by fire in the upper end of the county in October with no injuries. Had the fire occurred while the family was sleeping, the outcome would have been different because the home’s smoke detector was not in working order.

SMOKE DETECTORS SAVE LIVES. WHEN YOU TURN YOUR CLOCKS BACK THIS WEEKEND, CHANGE THE BATTERIES IN YOUR SMOKE DETECTOR AND TEST TO ENSURE THAT THEY ARE IN WORKING ORDER. If you need a smoke detector or have any questions about fire safety, please call fire-rescue administration at 556-5304 for assistance.

MacKay warned that dry weather and falling leaves will increase the danger of brush fires and urged all residents to use extreme caution with outside burning activities. Keep your fires small and do not burn when it is windy!

County Sherriff Jim Agnew reported that roving burglars are still plaguing parts of the county.

Happily, he said, there were no incidents on Halloween or at polling places. Agnew said that a former employee of the county’s social services department was arrested for embezzlement as the result of an investigation sparked by another employee and charges are pending. Sadly, this sort of activity occurs in even the best run organizations but thanks to principled employees it was eliminated.

Both Agnew and MacKay urge caution when traveling through construction zones in Centerville especially during the short days and bad weather of the months ahead.

Among the many housekeeping items on the agenda was an update of the county employee handbook. Changes include the establishment of a culture of “non-retaliation for reporting fraud and abuse” by county employees.

What a change from just two years ago when the previous regime in collusion with some supervisors attempted to establish a reign of terror threatening dissenting employees with immediate termination.

Handbook changes also address the amount of annual leave carryover permitted and include a code of ethics. Although the handbook says that the county will be a drug and alcohol free workplace, random, unannounced testing does not apply to all employees. Why not?

Then the board moved on to money issues, specifically, how much is left in the county’s fund balance.

In the last year or so, the supervisors agreed, at least in theory, to tap the county’s savings to pay for a water line installed along Three Chopt Road in Henrico as part of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District; some school items; creation of a utilizes master plan and other things needed but not funded in the annual budget. At the end of the day, according to John Wack, Deputy county Administrator for financial affairs, the county fund balance will be about $12.4 million.

District 4 Supervisor Rudy Butler was very distressed about this. He wanted to know what happened to all of the money that used to be in the county fund balance.

According to county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, the figures presented by Wack are based on the county’s 2009 CAFR. She said that in past years the amount in fund balance had been overstated because it did not reflect the amounts that the supervisors planned to remove from that account. In other words, the previous regime used the rosie scenario method of accounting and the board had no clue how much money was left in county coffers.

Board chairman William Quarles, District 2 attributed the anomaly to the fact that the county “previously had not used best practices when accounting for fund balance.”

James Eads, District 5, attributed the differences to “past years’ turbulence in the budget.”

For many years the county paid good money to outside auditors to supposedly inspect the county’s books and present the supervisors with an accurate picture of the county’s financial condition to enable them to make decisions. As last year’s CAFR (see county website for complete report) illustrated, Goochland’s finances were, at best, confused in previous years.

Now, Quarles and Eads and probably Andrew Pryor, District 1, who has said little about the fiasco, want to forget about the bad old days and move forward. Unfortunately, that long-term inattention to best practices in financial matters cost the county money in many ways.

Last year, for instance, the county expended $475,000 just to get a handle on the finances of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, which glaring evidence of incompetence by the previous auditors.

For some reason, the majority of supervisors are unwilling to explore legal remedies against those auditors even to recoup the cost of last year’s CAFR.

Next year Goochland elects its local officials. We must keep asking questions about fiscal matters past and present and not let anything be swept under the rug!

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