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5:30 AM Sun, Oct. 21st

Guest Column: No awards for Timko's Finance Department

You really have to hand it to Mohave County government. In fact, they're handed to them on a nearly weekly basis. What's that, you ask? Awards for excellence in government service!

A week doesn't go by without news from the Public Information Office about some department or employee being recognized for quality performance. And who doesn't want quality employees being recognized for their hard work? In fact, just this past month the County's Environmental Health Division was awarded for having a "Model Practice" in their Nuisance Abatement program.

Another example: The Procurement Department under Travis Lingenfelter and Annie Newton-Fruhwirth has racked up an impressive seven consecutive Achievement of Excellence awards in purchasing county goods and services.

On a recent Monday, the county released their Annual Financial Report for the year ending June 30th, 2011. That reminded me of the Board of Supervisors recent discussions regarding the extension of Finance Director John Timko's contract, and the beginning of the budget process for next year. In the discussion about Mr. Timko, the supervisors made abundantly clear John's value warranted extension of his contract for another 18 months - in spite of the fact that he had retired and continues in his capacity on a "personal services" contract. Some call it "double-dipping".

In light of the many awards in other county departments, and his immense managerial skills, certainly Mr. Timko himself is recognized for excellence in budgeting and finance, isn't he? There are awards for good financial management and reporting, aren't there?

Yes, there is. The Government Finance Officers Association awards governments for excellence in service on a variety of fronts. One major award is the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. You'll find this certificate included in other counties' Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports. Mr. Timko's office produces an Annual Financial Report but it's not "comprehensive." What is the difference? Why is there a Certificate of Achievement for the comprehensive report, but no recognition for an Annual Financial Report? That's the crux of the matter.

First, a "comprehensive" report must be completed by December instead of March 31st. Having the report three months earlier gives the citizens more time to digest the information. However, since the federal government only requires completion by the end of March to qualify for grants, there's little motivation for Mohave County to complete it any sooner.

More significantly, comprehensive means comprehensive. According to the GFOA's guidelines, the CAFR must be a much more detailed accounting of the county's financial activities, especially in a section called "Required Supplementary Information." First, the General Fund shows original and final budgeted amounts, and then the actual and variance from the budget of revenue and expenditures of each department. Then taxing districts organized under Title 48, such as Library, Flood Control, Television, and special improvement districts for roads and lighting are reported like any profit/loss statement. Overall, you get a much better picture of just what the county does with your money. So to qualify for this Certificate of Achievement for producing a comprehensive report, the various taxing districts should be audited and separately reported, within this "Comprehensive" report. But, Mohave County does not provide "Required Supplementary Information." Why? Is it really that difficult to report this information?

Of course not! The budgeting process is at the department and fund level, detailed at the line item level. So preparing this section and producing a more informative report would NOT be that difficult! Furthermore, Mohave County, like all governments, is expected to produce a CAFR, according to the U.S. Comptroller's Government Auditing Standards.

But if Mohave County doesn't, do other counties and the state also find it too difficult to produce the report? Not at all. Of the other six most populous counties in the state, all except Mohave County produced a CAFR and received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Report. We're the only major county who fails to earn it.

So, in light of recent budget disputes, establishment of these mysterious "financing corporations" for the admin building and new jail, and recent allegations of improprieties by county employees, the question isn't why the county doesn't produce a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, it is what are they failing to disclose? Mohave County citizens deserve to know.