Thursday, December 4, 2014

On to New York

Not quite three years after the sentencing of the former County Treasurer for embezzling county funds, Goochland County received an “unmodified opinion” from its financial reviewer.

On Tuesday, December 2, Mike Garber, a principal with PBMares, the accounting firm retained by the county to review its books and prepare the certified annual financial report (CAFR), reported on findings after examination of fiscal year 2014, which ended on June 30.

At a meeting of the county’s audit committee, comprised of members of county staff; the Board of Supervisors; school staff; and Treasurer Pamela C. Johnson held before the December Board meeting, Garber said that the results of the annual audit were “clean “with no findings, issues, or red flags. Garber said that there were some restatements resulting from adoption of new Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) rules, which go into effect on December 26.

“There were no material weaknesses,” Garber told the audit committee, chaired by District 1 Supervisor Susan Lascolette, who is also vice chair of the Board of Supervisors. The report identified the need to adjust three journal entries. “This is pretty remarkable,” Garber said, characterizing the number as low.

Goochland County is still considered a “high risk” auditee, as defined by OMB circular A-133, thanks to the sticky fingers of the former treasurer. Garber said that classification will go away if the county repeats with a clean audit next year.

Garber said that, thanks to significant changes in accounting rules, reporting on unfunded pension liability will reduce the amount of unrestricted dollars in the county’s general fund. This is the product of General Assembly periodic tinkering with the division of teacher pension contribution percentages paid by the state and localities. The bottom line, according to Garber, is that Goochland is better able to withstand this change than neighboring localities.

During his presentation of the CAFR to the full Board, Garber reported that the audit went well, which was aided by good cooperation from everyone involved.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that obtaining a clean audit if very much a team effort. She cited Deputy County Administrator for Finance John Wack, School Finance Director Debbie White, and Goochland Controller Barbara Horlacher for leading the effort. Dickson also pointed out that each and every employee of the county and schools contributed to the clean audit. “Sometimes small things can add up to big problems.”

Dickson also ironically commented that this year’s result was “quite an improvement over four years ago.” That was when a CAFR compiled by the first new auditor in about a decade identified approximately 40 material restatements and opined that no one on the county staff had the necessary skill set to apply generally accepted accounting practices to their tasks. In all fairness, man of those employees had little training or direction and simply did the best they could.

This dramatic improvement is the result of a change in attitude by county leadership. Begun by Dickson, who thanks to some rare, benign confluence of the planets, was appointed to her post by the previous regime in July, 2009. When the current Board of Supervisors took office in January 2012, the commitment to excellence, accountability, and transparency in local government went into full swing.

The full 2014 CAFR and the FY 2015 budget, which was recognized for its excellence, are on the county website These beautifully written documents contain a wealth of information about Goochland above and beyond the numbers and are well worth perusing.

In line with the recently adopted strategic plan, Dickson and some supervisors will travel to New York next month to secure a credit rating for Goochland from Standard & Poor’s Financial Services.

A credit rating will help the county obtain financing going forward. More importantly, it signifies that Goochland County is well governed and managed, an excellent location for business investment, and the stewardship of county leadership deserves the public trust.

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