Counties given more options for annual audits

Published 3:51 pm Saturday, February 13, 2016

Capitol Comments, by Peggy Bennett

On Feb. 10 I joined members of the State Government Finance Committee at a hearing in Albert Lea to discuss a statute pertaining to the role of the State Auditor’s Office in performing county audits.

Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

This statute, which was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Dayton, will allow counties the option to contract with private certified public accountants to perform the annual audit required by the state of Minnesota. Prior to this piece of legislation, most counties had been required to contract with the Office of the State Auditor to perform these audits.

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Almost all the cities in Minnesota, along with school districts and a few select counties, had already been given the option to hire a private CPA for their annual audits. This bill simply extends this option to all counties. Many counties, particularly in Greater Minnesota, have found significant savings by pricing audits with certified public accountants.

In addition, counties have also found that the private audits are often completed in a more timely fashion than those from the State Auditor’s Office. This makes the audit more useful to the counties and allows them to utilize the results in budget planning for the following year.

I am pleased that this legislation received a thorough vetting process by it being heard several times in committee, debated on the House floor, and signed into law with bipartisan support. This statute also has safeguards built into the language that allow the state auditor the right to review any audit if so desired. It simply provides a choice, not a mandate, for local officials.

The state auditor disagreed with this legislation and had filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep the mandate requiring the Office of the State Auditor to perform county audits intact. However, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor has released a report reaffirming the Minnesota State Legislature’s authority to define the duties and scope of authority of the State Auditor’s Office.

This idea is not new and has been proposed in the House or Senate multiple times over the last 10 years; it was time to pass it into law. I want to thank Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever for taking the time to share his insights on this issue with me last session, and for testifying in front of the State Government Finance Committee at meetings in Albert Lea and in St. Paul.

I believe this new statute is just plain common sense. timelier audit for less money means saving taxpayer dollars. Government should continually strive for quality and efficiency, with an ultimate goal of serving its people. Government must always avoid the pitfall of existing to sustain itself. This new statute gives counties more flexibility to better serve their communities, and that will benefit Minnesotans across the state.