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