From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Since I first began by legislative career in 2009, I’ve served on a lot of committees.
One of the most rewarding committee assignments has been my membership on Legislative Audit.
Most committees only meet during legislative sessions to review bills and hear from the public.
But the Legislative Audit Committee works year-round. It has a staff of certified public accountants and financial experts who travel across the entire state of Arkansas auditing public expenditures.
They audit state agencies and institutions of higher education. They audit school districts, cities and counties.
But that’s not all. They audit solid waste management districts and programs that award grants to non-profit organizations.
This watchdog group even audits watchdogs. They regularly audit local prosecuting attorneys, whose offices have to account for fees collected for court costs, hot checks and cash confiscated in drug busts.
Last week the Audit Committee released its findings of a small, rural fire department. Those findings are a good example of what can go wrong in a small fire department, and what can be done to correct problems.
The Buena Vista Fire Department of rural Ouachita County has a treasurer and a board of directors consisting of nine members.
Typically, 14 local residents volunteer for the fire department, which gets some funding from the state and collects dues from local property owners.
Auditors discovered that over a period of about five years, the treasurer misappropriated and misspent funds. She changed dates on invoices. She spent money on items that she wasn’t supposed to, and she spent money on herself.
She got away with it for years, in large part because the board trusted her. They are busy people, and some of them don’t have expertise in understanding balance sheets and financial documents.
That’s why the Legislative Audit Committee is so important. When the state auditors conducted their regular examination of the fire department’s finances, it didn’t take them long to figure out that a lot of money was missing.
Over a five year period, about $92,000 had been misspent. The local prosecutor is considering whether or not to bring charges, and the fire department is taking steps to recover the misappropriated money.
It could happen anywhere in Arkansas, but it won’t happen for long. Legislative auditors will eventually discover that tax dollars have been misspent.
I’m a great believer in financial transparency when it comes to government spending, and that’s why I’m proud of my work with the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.