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Editorial: Taxpayers owed accountability

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register editorial

One cannot blame officials in small towns for scrimping on the accounting process. Clerks cannot patrol village streets, after all. Accountants do not pave pothole-ridden roads. Every dime spent on them is money that cannot be used for purposes such as keeping the street lights on.

But they are essential to running local government.

Yorkville officials are in a bit of hot water with state Auditor Dave Yost. The village’s financial records have been deemed “unauditable” by his office.

Unless the village corrects some financial records and provides others for 2015 and 2016, the state auditor’s office may take additional action. That could include a lawsuit requiring the village to provide information sought by Yost’s office.

“Poor records lead to poor service for taxpayers,” Yost wrote in a letter to village officials.

They can lead to misuse of the public’s money, too. Just ask Smithfield residents. There, four former officials have pleaded guilty or been convicted of taking money improperly.

“Findings for recovery” totalling $43,479 against the former officials have been issued by Yost’s office.

Smithfield is not the first East Ohio town where residents have learned all was not well with municipal finances. And Yorkville is not the first to be told it is not in compliance with state accounting and auditing rules.

Most of the time, as is the case with Yorkville, Yost’s office is not targeting wrongdoing, just sloppy bookkeeping. As Mayor Craig Closser noted, “It is just a matter of (the village clerk/treasurer) getting the paperwork done in a timely manner.”

Getting that paperwork (or, these days, computer entries) complete costs money. People have to be paid to do it and often, expensive computers and software are needed.

Sometimes, faced with a variety of needs for spending limited resources, village officials economize on their accounting departments. Yost is right to insist the task be viewed as a top priority — not just to keep the folks in Columbus happy, but also to assure local taxpayers their money is being spent properly and legally.

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