Ben­ton chooses Leg­isla­tive Au­dit, will save nearly $50,000 in process

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Dana Guthrie [email protected]­ton­courier.com

The Ben­ton City Coun­cil has cho­sen to step away from us­ing their long­time CPA group and have Arkansas Leg­isla­tive Au­dit com­plete the 2019 au­dit for the city.

Af­ter us­ing the lo­cal firm of Yoakum, Lovell & Co. for more than 20 years, the du­ties will now pass to Leg­isla­tive Au­dit. The vote to change was tied at 5-5 with Ben­ton Mayor

Tom Farmer cast­ing the de­cid­ing vote dur­ing Mon­day night’s city coun­cil meet­ing. With Al­der­man Jeff Mor­row ab­sent from the meet­ing, his vote was counted as “no.”

Zeke Jones rep­re­sented Yoakum, Lovell &

Co. at the meet­ing, but no Leg­isla­tive Au­dit representa­tive at­tended. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Leg­isla­tive Au­dit ad­dressed the city coun­cil fi­nance com­mit­tee dur­ing its meet­ing last week.

Jones spoke about date re­quire­ments for com­plet­ing an au­dit as it re­lates to bond is­sues. Dur­ing the fi­nance com­mit­tee meet­ing, Leg­isla­tive Au­dit made it clear that it would

not be able to guar­an­tee any com­ple­tion dates for ser­vices.

“Our firm has made that dead­line ev­ery year,” Jones said.

Mandy Spicer, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer for the city, told the al­der­men dur­ing the com­mit­tee meet­ing that she was happy with the job that Yoakum, Lovell & Co. had been doing, but that it was good busi­ness prac­tice to con­sider other op­tions. The city has been pay­ing ap­prox­i­mately $50,000 per year for the ser­vices while Leg­isla­tive Au­dit will be free.

Jones noted his firms availabili­ty to the city and the ded­i­cated work they have per­formed in the past, in­clud­ing as­sist­ing when projects, such as Al­coa Road, pre­sented them­selves.

“The city is our big­gest client,” Jones said. “We feel we are very re­spon­sive. When side projects come up, we do them in a timely man­ner. I’m not sure if Leg­isla­tive Au­dit can do these types of projects.”

Jones also spoke about be­ing a lo­cal busi­ness with a staff of 11 people and how Leg­isla­tive Au­dit stated it would have to hire some­one if the city chooses that route.

“On the flip side,” Jones said, “we would prob­a­bly have to elim­i­nate a po­si­tion.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Jones spoke about their con­tri­bu­tions to the city in­clud­ing sup­port­ing lo­cal events like the In­de­pen­dence Day Bash and the City of Ben­ton Farm­ers Mar­ket.

Leg­isla­tive Au­dit han­dles ev­ery county in the state, along with 461 cities. It also han­dles school districts, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

“In clos­ing,” Jones said, “my firm would like to con­tinue to do the au­dit and we hope you al­low us to.”

Al­der­man Bill Don­nor voted against us­ing Leg­isla­tive Au­dit.

“The bud­get is the most im­por­tant thing that the city does,” Don­nor said. “I think every­one on this coun­cil works re­ally hard to make sure we han­dle the bud­get in a good man­ner.”

Don­nor noted that when Saline County used Leg­isla­tive Au­dit, they re­ceived their au­dit 16 months later than it was due.

“I can’t sup­port this,” Don­nor said.

Al­der­man Judd Hart agreed with Don­nor.

“When deal­ing with pub­lic fi­nanc­ing and the money that is in­volved with the city,” Hart said, “I think hav­ing our an­nual au­dit in a timely man­ner if there ever is an is­sue would be an im­por­tant thing as well … Lovell and Yoakum have done that and done that for a very long time … one of the is­sues that the Leg­isla­tive Au­dit people has is that they can’t guar­an­tee when that can be done. We’ve never had a prob­lem with that in the 20-plus years that (Yoakum, Lovell & Co.) has been doing it.”

City At­tor­ney Brent Houston also cited his con­cerns.

“I just want it re­flected in the min­utes that I was con­cerned about the tim­ing,” Houston said. “How long it would take. Con­ti­nu­ity. The fact that we have one au­di­tor over­look­ing the en­tire city which would in­clude the util­ity depart­ment since the util­ity depart­ment is not mak­ing any change to au­di­tors to my knowl­edge.”

Houston also said he was con­cerned with the bond dead­lines and ac­count­abil­ity to the pub­lic.

The al­der­men in fa­vor of Leg­isla­tive Au­dit cited the fact that the city would be saving $50,000 per year plus the fact that there are no known is­sues re­gard­ing time­li­ness.

“If there was a prob­lem with the Leg­isla­tive Au­dits,” said Al­der­man Steve Lee, “then some­one please tell me why more than 80 per­cent of the cities in the state of Arkansas use them.”

Those vot­ing against the res­o­lu­tion in­cluded Don­nor, Hart, Jeff Hamm and Eve­lyn Reed.

With the vote in a 5-5 tie, Farmer had to cast the de­cid­ing vote.

“As much as I love the Yoakums,” Farmer said, “my vote is yes.”

All meet­ings are open to the pub­lic and at­ten­dance is en­cour­aged.

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