Thursday, December 5, 2013

An early Christmas present

The most significant item on the December 3 agenda of the Goochland Board of Supervisors, delivery of the Certified Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for fiscal 2013, which ended on June 30, got little notice. It should have been heralded with trumpets.
The nasty memories of fiscal Christmas past are fading and the positive of Christmas yet to come is here.
The CAFR was presented by Mike Garber, a principal with the firm of PBMares, which succeeded the firm of KPMG as outside auditors for the county.
Now available in all its glory under the finance department tab on the county website, the latest CAFR paints a very different picture than years of old. This document includes a lot of interesting information about the county in addition to the numbers and is well worth a perusal.
Following a detailed review of every county and school department, PBMares identified three minimal issues, which had been corrected when the CAFR was presented.
The report includes a “clean opinion” of county finances. However, due to the scary stuff in previous years, Goochland is considered to be “high risk” until it receives two CAFRs with “no findings.”
Board chair Ken Peterson, District 5, asked Garber how Goochland compares with other localities. Garber replied that Goochland “has come a long way” and can now be ranked with counties in Northern Virginia for “how you are managed and run.”
These supervisors, compelled to run by what they believed was a total failure of stewardship on the part of their predecessors, is committed to excellent and transparent management of local government.
Indeed, they are working toward the establishment of a bond rating for Goochland to aid in future borrowing and provide additional external scrutiny of county finances to act as a “canary in the coal mine” for early warnings of difficulties.
Getting from there to here was not the result of a magic spirit but lots of hard work, dedication, and commitment by the county administrator, board, county, and school staffs. Goochland Treasurer, Pam Johnson has also worked above and beyond the call of duty to set Goochland’s fiscal house in order and pledges to keep it that way.
Perhaps the best indication of how well an organization is run and managed is how handles its finances. Things are good and getting better. It was not always so.
Five years ago, the state of Goochland County finances was, at best, undeterminable, at worst in shambles. Revelations of uncashed checks tucked away in the files of the utility department proved to be the tip of a very deep and bizarre iceberg.
In the next few years, thanks largely to District 3 supervisor Ned Creasey’s refusal to stop asking embarrassing questions about county finances, we learned that the same accounting firm that closed Goochland’s books each year was performing the annual audit, and had done so for a long time. This is—to use a not so technical term—an absolute no no.
When a new accounting firm was retained to perform the annual audit, dozens of errors, known as material restatements in auditor lingo, came to light. Although subsequent CAFRs resulted in improvement, the havoc wreaked on county operations was significant, perhaps criminally so. We may never know how much money evaporated.
Meanwhile, the former treasurer was embezzling public funds and is now a guest of the Commonwealth.
To cover its own nether parts, the previous regime postponed investigation of malfeasance by the former auditors until the statute of limitations—the period in which charges may be filed—expired, thereby sweeping the whole matter under the metaphorical rug.
The bad is past, but must not be forgotten lest it be repeated.
By the way, today, December 5, is the due date for county taxes. Take comfort in the fact that your tax dollars are well spent.

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