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County books making progress, says state auditor

YAKIMA - The fifth time was a charm for Yakima County.

That's according to the results of a state audit released last week.

After four consecutive years of issuing findings, related to potentially serious issues, none were levied against the county's books for 2011.

The four previous audits of Yakima County Auditor Corky Mattingly's department resulted in findings related to internal controls over financial reporting.

Auditors reported no findings this year, though, and noted, "...the county is making improvements to internal controls."

"It's wonderful!" Mattingly says of not having an audit finding this year.

She also noted that counties are typically "decentralized" when it comes to internal controls, with different departments contributing to the financial statement. "It's a natural weakness of counties," she says.

Mattingly said a key to the county having a finding-free audit was hiring an outside consultant to review the entire process.

"Before different people from different departments (within county government) did the review," she said. "Having one person look at the whole thing helped out a lot."

Yakima County had two other findings last year related to how employees reported their time. Those were also cleaned up, according to the 2011 audit released last week.

Craig Warner is the county's budget director, and he says the issues were essentially related to miscommunication over how employee time cards needed to reflect hours funded through a federal grant program.

"You can't just say you spend 20 percent of your time working on a program, you have to track your time and effort each day on federal programs," Warner said.

Another step to resolve previous auditing issues, Warner noted, is that last year Sheriff Ken Irwin hired a full-time accountant to help manage the department's budget that tops $8 million, plus federal grants that are utilized. The position fills a vacancy in the Sheriff's office after the undersheriff resigned.

Having a clean audit like the one received just last week is not only a relief, but could eventually help the county save some money in the long run.

"Anytime you have an audit finding you are considered high risk and the state auditors will come in and do a greater level of detail in looking at things," Warner said.

Conversely, if the county can put together two years in a row of clean audits then it will be considered a low audit risk. That could save Yakima County about $20,000 each year, Warner said.

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