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The Right Note: Audit Away

by Mark Kelly — July 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington County Board announced it is ramping up to hire an independent County Auditor. The Auditor is to be independent in the sense that the office is slated to report directly to the Board rather than going through the filter of the County Manager’s office.

For good or ill, the Auditor would operate along with an Audit Committee of up to seven other people representing the Board, the county staff and citizen advisors. In general, the larger such a committee is, the less efficient it will be. Let’s hope the Committee does not restrict the ability of the Auditor to be effective.

It is particularly good to see that the reports will be published online in a timely fashion. That will give the community the opportunity to review the findings and draw their own conclusions.

Arriving at this point began with the Arlington Civic Federation who first called for an Auditor a few years back. Several candidates, including myself, made it a part of our campaign platforms when challenging the all-Democrat County Board. As with the other changes, including the end of the streetcar project, it did not come to fruition until voters put an end to the one party rule on the Board.

Libby Garvey got on board with the concept after John Vihstadt’s election, and the two convinced their colleagues to consider it. To his credit, Delegate Hope then carried a bill to ensure Arlington had the authority to create the position. The effort has truly been bi-partisan. And it proves that good ideas in Arlington can come from outside the Board or the current power structure within the Democratic Party.

The true test will be when the Auditor finds waste or inefficiencies in the current county government. The question will be, just how committed is the Board to making positive changes that will save taxpayers money? And if the Board is willing to reduce or eliminate certain spending, will they find other ways to spend it or will they actually consider lowering tax rates?

Also, will the Board charge the Auditor to take an honest look at the regular annual budget process and the less well understood closeout process? As I have argued here, the closeout process itself unnecessarily drives up spending outside of the regular budget process. It is not difficult to imagine that we could change the way county staff builds budgets to the benefit of taxpayers.

While questions remain, we should be cautiously optimistic that an Auditor will increase transparency and accountability and even keep a few more tax dollars in the pockets of the people who earned them.

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