A report released by State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick finds that Chariton County has failed to craft accurate budgets, leading to a multi-million-dollar fund balance that Fitzpatrick says could be used to lower taxes for county residents.
The audit, which gives the county a rating of “good,” finds that the county has amassed a significant cash reserve with no documented plans for its use and minimal efforts to reduce revenues by lowering the property tax rate. As of December 31, 2022, the General Revenue (GR) Fund balance for the county was nearly $8 million, equivalent to approximately 4.6 years of funding based on the current levels of operating disbursements of the fund. The audit points out that even with the significant accumulated GR Fund balance, the County Commission continues to assess a property tax rate that results in more than $600,000 in property tax collections each year with no documented long-term plan for the use of this money.
“I understand the county has seen an influx of one-time federal funds, but county officials have also crafted inaccurate budgets that have caused their fund balance to balloon to nearly $8 million,” Fitzpatrick said. “The enormous fund balance in the county’s general revenue fund represents a great opportunity for the commission to lower the tax burden on the people of Chariton County. These dollars are better off in the hands of the people and businesses of Chariton County rather than in the county’s coffers.”
Specifically, the County Commission’s failure to craft budgets that reasonably reflect the actual amount of disbursements the county will make each year is the main factor causing the budgets to be unreliable. For the years 2020 through 2022, the Commission significantly overestimated disbursements by more than $4.3 million in total. The audit notes that this approach to budgeting is misleading to the public and paints an inaccurate picture of the county’s financial condition.
Also highlighted in the report are concerns with the County Commission approving mid-term salary increases for the Sheriff, violating constitutional provisions, and the need for improvement with controls and procedures in the Sheriff’s Office. The audit recommends the implementation of adequate receipting and depositing procedures, and the preparation of monthly bank reconciliations and lists of liabilities in the Sheriff’s office.
Other findings include a failure by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to assess or collect the statutorily required fees from defendants who owe court-ordered restitution, and the need for improved controls and procedures for the three fuel tanks maintained by the county.