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Van Buren audit yields disturbing results
Greg Wilson.jpg

Van Buren County government is mishandling taxpayer dollars, according to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

The determination comes shortly after county commissioners approved a property tax increase to generate additional funds.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Division of Local Government Audit released the annual Van Buren County audit report on Friday for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. Comptroller auditors made nine findings. Six of the problems were also noted in last year’s audit.

The findings, which outline significant deficiencies and noncompliance, were made in the offices of County Mayor, Road Superintendent, and Director of Schools.

The findings indicate many concerns related to county government’s handling of financial matters. These issues include cash overdrafts, failure to solicit competitive bids, unapproved contracts, expenditures exceeding appropriations, and several purchasing deficiencies.

Auditors also pointed out serious concerns with how beginning fund balances were presented to the Van Buren County Commission. In several cases, the actual amount in multiple county funds was well below the amount provided on documents to the County Commission. 

It was noted county officials must have accurate information to make good decisions.

The Comptroller’s Office has been actively working with Van Buren County in order to keep the county from experiencing continued financial woe. As part of that effort, county officials have been sending weekly financial reports to the Comptroller’s Office.

The county’s audit report also points out the importance of separating accounting responsibilities within the County Mayor’s Office and updating the county’s system of internal controls to secure public money and property.

“Van Buren County officials are well aware of the need to stabilize the county’s financial condition,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “It’s also vitally important to improve the county’s financial management. It is particularly concerning to me that the county’s audit committee did not even meet to review last year’s audit. It is time for county leaders to take serious and necessary action.”

In August, Van Buren County commissioners voted 9-1 in favor of a 45-cent property tax increase for fiscal year 2020-21, setting the property tax rate at $2.76. Numbers presented at that time stated that Van Buren County’s budget for fiscal year 2020-21 had a projected ending balance of $211,749 on June 30, 2021. It is unknown if that number is accurate. 

Commissioners also approved 9-1 to allow voters to decide on a $40 wheel tax. It failed to pass Nov. 3 with 1,937 residents voting against the wheel tax and 883 voting in favor. 

Those two increases were proposed as a way to prevent the county from going bankrupt and fix its budget crises.