Thursday, October 19, 2000

Audit by state faults Deerfield


Township rates D-minus, official says

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TWP. — This rapidly growing Warren County township could be fast on its way to financial ruin, according to a state auditor's review of Deerfield's 1999 finances.

        Township officials would probably receive a “D- minus” on a standard grading scale, said Mitch Givens, director of public affairs for the auditor's office, based on Deerfield Township's audit report released by the state auditor's office last week.

        According to the audit, Deerfield Township received three material citations, five reportable conditions, and seven management letter comments. A material citation is the most serious audit penalty outside of a fine for recovery.

        “Those marks indicate that the township really needs to do a better job with its finances,” Mr. Givens said. “They've got across-the-board problems with their finances.... They've got expenditure problems, payroll problems, bidding problems. They are in jeopardy of having a financial crisis if they don't get their acts together.”

        But township trustees say Deerfield's financial situation is not as grave as the audit implies. Trustees President Bill Morand said many of the findings identified by state auditors in their draft report were explained and discredited by township officials, but the corrections never made it into the final report.

        “The state doesn't quite understand how the (Tax Increment Financing) program works, and that can create some technical problems,” Mr. Morand said. “But I don't think we've done anything wrong.”

        Among the state's objections: trustees spending more money for payment of debts than the township has appropriated; use of police levy funds to pay the salary of an administrative assistant; failure to properly advertise and competitively bid construction projects exceeding $15,000; hiring a special-projects coordinator without a formal employment agreement; not establishing a formal travel reimbursement policy; failure to properly monitor charge accounts and credit cards; and failure to properly record all township financial activities.

        “Everything I've been telling (the trustees) all along has now gotten them into trouble,” said Township Clerk Kristin Spiekerman. “Because they won't listen, it has now cost them an audit that I wouldn't want, and it makes the township look very bad.”

        The state did not issue any findings for recovery against the township. Findings for recovery are generally issued when funds are flagrantly misspent or stolen and by state law should be recovered, Mr. Givens said.

        “I realize it is a very politically charged environment down there in Deerfield, but we aren't interested in that. We hate to see public money potentially wasted, and that may be what's happening here,” he said. “A dollar lost is a dollar lost, whether it's stolen or unintentionally misspent.”

        Mr. Givens said the audit's findings and recommendations should be taken seriously because “material citations can affect the township's bond rating and ability to borrow funds.” He added that by spending more money than it appropriates, Deerfield Township runs the risk of falling into “deep er debt.”

        “Maybe as a result of this audit, the public will pay closer attention to what's going on in its local government and hold its elected officials more accountable,” Mr. Givens said.

        Trustee Larry Backus said he was shocked and upset by what the audit revealed. He said he's planning an investigation to “get to the bottom of some of the things that are in that report.”

       



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