I’m talking about you and me. County commissioners continue to reject citizens’ request for a finance committee to guide elected officials on county financial matters. I, along with two other citizens attended the county’s 2020 budget study session on Sep 18. Beth Shelly, citizen and reporter with The Ranchland News, and citizen Marlene Groves, another advocate for a citizens’ committee were the lone “civilian” attendees.
One reason for an officially sanctioned citizens’ finance committee would be to gain access to county financial records in a timely fashion. Currently, citizens do not have that. The state requires prompt reporting in a news publication of all monthly county expenditures. Elbert County has chosen the Elbert County News (ECN) to publish its monthly expenses. The problem is that they aren’t always published monthly, sometimes being two to five months late. Also problematic is the county’s failure to regularly post those payments on the county website. As of this writing, the July and August payments are missing from the website and the July report has not been published in ECN. (I have requested the county to please update their records.) See Jan-Jun 2019 payments here: https://www.elbertcounty-co.gov/budget_information.php#outer-3560
The county budget has become quite tight again, stemming from commissioners’ disregard of basic accounting principles. Spending is not well-controlled. Revenue is being forfeited. It was painful listening as elected officials and department heads struggled to justify expenses and to offer up sacrifices facing a $300,000 General Fund shortfall, as reported by County Manager Sam Albrecht.
Recent hiring of credentialed personnel in the finance department was the right move. But, even they cannot overcome the blunders of the commissioners. My hope is that taxpayers will begin to pay more attention to how their money is being spent and will begin asking tough questions of these commissioners.
Spending: I want transparency in county spending through timely reporting, without any spin. County credit card expenditures for 2019 now total $133,705.97 (less the amount from the missing July report). The county provides no insight regarding these expenses. I have repeatedly asked the commissioners to provide transparency by implementing a system used by Eagle County that itemizes county credit card expenditure. See: https://www.eaglecounty.us/financials.aspx?Page=ExpensePCard Contract litigation payments to Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti totaling over $77,000 (less the amount in the missing July report) are also troubling. Commissioners’ decision to spend $900,000 from the General, Road and Bridge, and Sales and Use funds to augment a residential bond agreement for road paving in Sun Country Meadows was shortsighted and unethical, in my opinion. That expenditure is causing pain now in the 2020 budget.
Revenue: Forfeiting $5 million in impact fees for the Independence developer is a self-inflicted budget wound; unforgivable and inexplicable. Taxpayer dollars are being used to publish stories and provide spin, to the tune of $22,088 over the last 13 months. County records show payments for Prairie Times’ publication of the “Elbert County Connection” at a cost of $672 for a one page insert and $4010 for a four page insert. The Independence impact fee rebate story in this month’s EC Connection is not credible. It is unsigned, undocumented and untruthful. The county has no long term requirements for road improvements by the Independence developer. Since the reader was not directed to the actual agreement between the county and the developer, here is a link to the agreement. Section 19 contains the impact fees rebate; Section 22 contains the road improvement agreements:
Please, let’s find budget literate commissioner candidates to run for office in 2020.