BY: KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB
Each year, every municipality is required to undergo an audit to ensure they are properly managing public funds. This is a good thing – it makes sure local governments are keeping their books in order and managing tax payer dollars effectively.
While it’s clear that these audits are important tools to keep governments accountable to their citizens, getting them completed can be difficult. Some municipalities don’t have the money to hire an outside auditor or can’t get any firms to offer to conduct the audit for the amount the state code allows them to pay.
Meanwhile, according to State Auditor JB McCuskey, there are close to 30 open positions in the State Auditor’s office that they have been unable to fill due to low starting pay compared with similar positions in the private sector.
In order to remedy these challenges, over the past year, the Auditor’s office has partnered with a class of fourth and fifth year accounting students at West Virginia University to perform audits for small municipalities who had not recently been audited.
Each student was responsible for auditing one local government’s financial records, allowing them to gain public sector experience while providing much-needed audit support for these small towns. The Auditor noted in his testimony before the Senate Government Organization Committee last Friday that this partnership has also connected his office with potential new hires.
Auditor McCuskey is hoping legislators will authorize expansion of the pilot program during this Legislative Session.
Senate Bill 479 seeks to make the local government monitoring pilot program permanent while allowing it to expand to form relationships with colleges and universities other than WVU. The bill also increases the total amount a municipal government can spend on an audit – a remedy both Oak Hill and Weston pursued through their municipal home rule applications – which would allow municipalities to seek out more competitive bidders to perform their annual audit.
Innovative programs like this give much-needed resources to municipalities who want to do the right thing but face financial barriers to doing so, particularly for those located in areas with declining tax revenues.
After passing through the Senate Government Organization committee last Friday (see the recording of the meeting here), SB 479 was referred to its second committee reference – the Senate Finance Committee. It is currently awaiting a spot on the committee’s agenda.
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