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Officials from Island County agencies have reacted too negatively lately to reports from the Washington State Auditor’s Office.
By law, the Auditor’s Office goes through the books of local governments, from the county and cities on down to fire, port and other taxing districts, on a regular basis. The cost is charged to the local agency, but this is an example of an “unfunded mandate” from the Legislature that is a positive thing. Just knowing that a state auditor will be coming makes it a priority for local taxing districts to fully account for their spending.
Island Transit Director Martha Rose reacted too negative to two “findings” in that agency’s audit, released last week. Most islanders love Island Transit and trust its administration, but nobody’s perfect. The state wanted better tracking of employees’ use of vehicles and the fuel they purchase. The auditor also questioned the transit board’s decision to give Rose considerable spending approval without prior board authorization. At issue was an $859,000 “change order.” No doubt it was above-board, but the fact is that no local agency head should have that much discretion when it comes to spending.
Rose complained that the audit findings suggested wrongdoing, which they don’t, and said she planned to appeal. But why bother appealing when all that is needed is to make the bookkeeping changes suggested by the auditor? That would be the most direct, efficient and affordable way to ensure the public that its tax dollars are being wisely handled.
An Island County official reacted similarly recently when the state auditor cited several apparent misappropriations by the Freeland Water and Sewer District commissioners, working with a county grant. The county’s defense it that it had already discovered and announced the errors. That’s fine, but there’s no need for hackles to be raised by the state auditor putting them down in writing. Again, it’s just a way to make sure the public knows about the problem and that it will be fixed.
Some audit findings are incorrect, and some appeals are successful. But the Washington State Auditor’s Office generally does an outstanding job of auditing spending by local districts. They should be thanked for their findings, not subjected to a negative reaction by overly-defensive officials.