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County, state differ on audit findings

YAKIMA - The Washington state auditor's office calls it a "significant deficiency," while Yakima County Auditor Corky Mattingly says the state was deficient in its review of county books.

The heart of the debate is a finding state auditors issued earlier this week that took issue with the way the Yakima County auditor's office prepares its financial statements.

"The county's financial statement preparation process is complex and leaves the county at risk for misstatements and errors," auditors contended in the audit finding.

Further, the state alleges the Yakima County auditor's office does not conduct an effective review of its financial statements. "We received statements, notes and supporting schedules that did not appear to have been independently reviewed; they did not reconcile, balance or total correctly."

State officials also claim that county employees responsible for preparing the financial statements lacked knowledge of accounting principles.

As proof, the state said that Yakima County incorrectly understated investment in capital assets by $13.4 million. In addition, the state contends that Yakima County improperly reported nearly $6 million in net assets in its statements.

Other errors noted by auditors included a business-type statement out of balance by $486,023 and long-term debt overstated by $254,939.

Auditors also took issue with fund reporting, noting a classification difference of $17 million in the Department of Corrections. Also, Yakima County was dinged for having nearly $5 million reported as current year's revenue when it should have been reported as a prior period adjustment.

Mattingly disagreed with the state's remarks and noted her office did not have significant deficiencies on its books. She noted there was no misappropriation of funds.

Craig Warner is the county's budget director, and he said the reason for Mattingly's response is changes in recent years within the state auditor's office.

Warner explained that previously the county could turn over its financial statements for different departments one by one to auditors. Now, he says, the state wants to see everything at once. "That's put a significant burden on local government," he said.

Not only that, the state has in the past couple of years hired a new audit manager. "They all have different processes for how they do things," Warner said.

Between a new state audit manager's priorities and new rules on getting the entire financial statement in at one time, Warner said it's possible there could have been numbers inputted into wrong cells on the spreadsheets done by the county auditor's office.

In her response, Mattingly said the state auditor's office "did not devote sufficient resources to audit the financial statements in a timely manner."

As an example, Mattingly in her response to the finding noted that part of the state's review process included under qualified and inexperienced personnel, such as an audit receptionist reconciling financial statements.

She was even more pointed in the state's criticism that county officials lack knowledge of accounting principles.

"The assertion that the employees who are responsible for preparing the financial statements lack proper knowledge is subjective," Mattingly said. "It appears the state auditor fails to recognize the experience and ongoing training of the county auditor's staff."

The debate between county and state officials won't end with audit findings and responses, as a face-to-face meeting is planned in the near future.

Rand Elliott is a county commissioner representing an area that includes the Lower Valley. He said a meeting between county and state officials is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21.

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