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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Background on Presidio County audits over the last few years

Hello, all

This is not intended to be an accountant's or an attorney's viewpoint on the state of Presidio County's financial statements or practices. This is instead my own viewpoint and interpretation of what has occurred, where we are now, and where we could head from here.

The main purpose of even covering this material is to try to explain, in relatively simple terms, the issues our county government has had with regard to proper financial practices and oversight. The problems we have had are not at all new, and I am happy to say that there are many in the current elected and hired county positions who are working hard to modernize systems and remedy problems.

Presidio County is a poor county. Without oil and gas revenue and with a large land mass the county is constantly struggling to provide basic services to its citizens. Over the years the county has relied upon grant funding to close funding gaps in many areas, and particularly in law enforcement. Grant funding comes with major complex responsibilities in procedures, tracking of funds and resources and reporting. Many of the grants that Presidio County has relied upon require the county to first spend money on resources and then apply approved reimbursement of funds expended. One of the programs we have relied on in order to provide adequate law enforcement is the Operation Stonegarden grant, which reimburses the county for overtime expenditures (including fuel, equipment and man-hours) with regard to Border Security. In the last several years the county has been granted over $350,000 each year through this program. There have been problems with the grant administration of Stonegarden, as well as with some of the smaller grants the county has received. In  2014 the county began to pursue the Presidio International Bridge Expansion project assertively. The county received federal grant funding to complete the Presidential Permit process needed to complete the bridge project. There have been some problems with that accounting as well.

Last year a County Auditor was appointed by District Judge Roy Ferguson to straighten out county finances and internal accounting systems after the county's receiving an adverse audit for the year 2012. Myriad problems including but not limited to purchasing policies, asset tracking (none), grant administration, reconciliation of bank accounts, incomplete budgeting, off books bank accounts and invalid contracts were identified. Some painful progress was made during this time by both the auditor's efforts and the efforts of county officials. I am of the opinion that some of that progress has led to permanent improvements, but for the year 2014 it was already too late in coming. During the creation of the 2015 budget, the Auditor unexpectedly resigned; many people were happy. For me, I was greatly disappointed, for the health of the county and in him personally.

At this point I am going to pause and state that my explanation above is a major oversimplification of why every year the county gets an unfavorable audit. What I am trying to do here is give the reader a general idea of what the problems have been and how we can work to fix them.

As for 2015,  we are now 3/4 of the way through the fiscal year. It's already time to begin to have budget meetings. The budget must be written and approved by Commissioners Court before September 30th. FY 2016 begins October 1st. I believe the 2015 audit will be much improved, but will contain some similar problems we have seen in the past, particularly with regard to grant administration. Recently, Commissioners Court has come under pressure internally from the new Treasurer and also the officers in the the Commissioners Court internal Office of Management and Budget to create and enforce proper policies in order to become legally compliant with the financial requirements of county government. I have also been vocal about all county departments complying with updated countywide policies that reflect proper procedure. I am asking the citizens of Presidio County to demand more from their elected officials. With more taxpayer accountability and a greater awareness that all county resources are the property of the citizens of the county itself, Presidio County government can easily do better and be something we can all be proud of.


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