By Sue Botos
City officials had hoped a performance audit would provide a road map as they navigate toward placing an income tax hike on the November ballot. However, the office of State Auditor Dave Yost provided a roadblock instead.
At City Council’s last legislative session, Councilman at large Chris Klym said that he and Ward 3 Councilman Mike O’Donnell spoke to Yost concerning HB 5, the so-called municipal tax uniformity bill, and the effect it would have, if passed in its present form, on the city.
“It was a nice range of discussion,” reported Klym, who noted that Yost’s office has been conducting performance audits in several cities. He asked Mayor Pam Bobst if this was an option for the city.
Bobst, who sits on the auditor’s advisory board, responded that when Leverage for Efficiency, Accountability and Performance (LEAP) grants were first made available by Yost’s office in 2011 to help defray the costs of performance audits, the city applied. She noted that grants for both the sewer improvement program and a refuse disposal study were denied.
“After all the excitement, the auditor’s office did not feel that many communities would step up and want to be scrutinized,” Bobst recalled. While being denied the funds from the grants, Bobst said that on the positive side, funds were channeled to municipalities in “more dire straits.”
According to information provided to the city by the auditor’s office, there is $1.5 million available in LEAP funds, which “advances the cost of performance audits for local governments.”
“To have a credible outside individual provide information makes sense,” Bobst added. The grants, or any loans applied for to pay for the grants, would be paid back through savings realized as a result of the audit.
Information on the state auditor’s website (www.audito.state.oh.us) states that Yost recommends performance audits for local governments, schools and other public bodies to “help public sector managers and elected officials ensure their organizational objectives are met in an economical and effective manner and to enhance the accountability of government.”
The site adds that any municipality may apply, and “will be reviewed and approved where available funds are likely to have the greatest impact.” It did not give any direct examples of such impact.
Asked about the out-of-pocket expense for a performance audit without a grant, Bobst said that for the refuse study, this would amount to about $15,500. “Performance audits have value, but they are cost-prohibitive,” Bobst noted. She said that she will keep the discussion open with Yost’s office in the hope that there will be some changes.
Klym noted that the rejection of the city’s request for LEAP grants was “interesting” in light of the positive response he and O’Donnell received during their conversation with Yost.
O’Donnell agreed, stating that the performance audit was “worth following up on.”