County’s finance committee must get its house in order

Published 12:54 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

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It is important for elected county commissions – and even the public – to know what is going on with a county’s finances. Citizens expect their county government to put together budgets and maintain financial reports so that commissioners and the public can understand what is going on and commissioners can make proper decisions. That is what we expect, but that’s not what is happening in Carter County.

Thursday afternoon, Jason Mumpower, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasurer, visited Carter County and addressed the Carter County Financial Management Committee about fiscal responsibility. His visit was the result of a bad audit report of county finances for the fiscal 2023 year.

He noted that Carter County has the “worst financial management of any county” in Tennessee. Mumpower placed much of the blame on Carolyn Watson, the county’s finance director, but he also placed a lot of the blame on the county’s finance committee.

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We can understand the committee members not being well-versed in finances, but the finance director’s job in part is to keep the committee informed of the county’ finances – what is coming in, what is being paid out, etc. It is her job to make sure the committee is receiving good financial information every month so they can make good decisions.

“When we see that your financial statements were off by more than $11 million last year, out of a $92 million budget, we certainly cannot feel confident that you’re getting good information,” Mumpower told the committee.

Worse than the bad accounting, is that the committee apparently did not recognize there was a problem within the financial department.

After the annual audit came out, and Watson was called out for the bad accounting practices, she placed the blame on her predecessor, saying that some of the findings originated from several years ago and it would take more than one year to get all the problems resolved. She also noted that there had been extensive turnover in the department and unfilled staff position.

It appears from the audit that some of the county departments must bear part of the blame – the County School Department, the Carter County Schools’ Transportation Department, and the Solid Waste Department.

Carter County Director of Schools told the Commission in March that his department is working with the Comptroller’s Office to ensure corrective actions are being implemented and that past deficiencies have been addressed.

It appears that there are people in positions that either do not know how to do the job or cannot get the job done.

The state comptroller did point out that in spite of the bad accounting, Carter County does have a healthy fund balance and its debt is manageable.

But, the fact remains that the county’s financial management is very poor…it has been poor for two years and remains poor today.

It’s up to the county’s finance committee to correct the problem even if it means replacing people. It also is a call to members of the finance committee to educate themselves on financial matters of the county and to get the county’s house in order.