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County finances held surprises in 2016

Letter to the Editor


Dear Editor,

This spring the (Okanogan) county commissioners found themselves with a big problem. They did not have enough money to pay 3-4 months of normal expenses until April property tax receipts arrived in the county’s account in mid-summer. Leah Cormack, County Treasurer of 10 years, reported at the commissioners' meeting in early April that she had never seen during her years as Treasurer as dire a revenue shortfall as had occurred.

How did this happen? Aren’t two of the incumbent commissioners campaigning on successfully balancing the budget?

The budget and its management is one of the most important roles of the county commissioners. It involves the same process we wage earners do with our paychecks, making sure the money coming in matches the money going out. So, balancing a budget is not the end of the job – it is the start. Commissioners should be reviewing monthly the cash flow, making sure their projections for the year match up with the reality of running the county. Well, somehow, this did not happen this spring. Everyone was surprised with a huge shortfall that required the depletion of the rainy day reserve fund in order to meet payroll and routine expenditures. When April tax revenues came in, the county replenished the rainy day fund, so they are back on track, we hope.

There were lots of excuses, like wildfires, for why the shortfall occurred, but the bottom line is that the commissioners were not overseeing the county’s finances on a monthly basis. If they had been, they would have seen this coming way before they finally did. They do approve monthly vouchers for expenses and payroll, but there is no record in their minutes that these expenditure approvals are tracked against budget projections.

This is not the promised review of the budgets. Or if it is, then it is not adequate. If you say you are accountable, then you should deliver accountability.

Stuart R. Gillespie



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