Editorial: Hawkins’ clean audit is laudable. Now take next step

Editorial Board • Feb 29, 2020 at 4:30 PM

Hawkins County government has earned a pat on the back for completing the previous fiscal year with a clean budget. There are no negative findings in the county’s 2018-19 fiscal year audit, and County Mayor Jim Lee is justifiably “very proud of my staff. They work hard every day and this is proof.”

County residents should share in lauding this accomplishment. The last time the county had no negative findings was on the 2015-16 audit, and that was the county’s first-ever clean audit based on records available at that time.

The previous year’s audit — for the 2017-18 fiscal year — had two findings, including a $64,000 shortfall in the county school system due to alleged theft. The second issue was an “accounting deficiency” in the sheriff’s office that was corrected immediately.

In May 2017, the State Department of Education informed the county school department that it had not met the maintenance of effort compliance requirements for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016, by either total expenditures or per-pupil expenditures. The amount by which the maintenance of effort was decreased totaled $89,374.

So a return to a clean audit meant a lot of work and a job well done. But there’s more that could be done to keep the county on a strong financial path.

Although it’s not a negative finding, the state auditor annually suggests that Hawkins County adopt a central system of accounting. Currently, the county mayor’s office and the county school system operate with separate accounting systems.

“Hawkins County does not have a central system of accounting and budgeting,” the audit report states. “Sound business practices dictate that establishing a central system would significantly improve internal controls over the accounting and budgeting processes. The absence of a central system of accounting and budgeting has been a management decision by the county commission resulting in decentralization and some duplication of effort.”

The audit report further states, “The Division of Local Government Audit strongly believes that the adoption of a central system of accounting and budgeting is a best practice that would significantly improve accountability and the quality of services provided to the citizens of Hawkins County.”

That’s a goal the county and school system should work toward. It also would save money by eliminating duplication of effort.