Comptroller: Cannon County Needs To Centralize Its Money-Handling Functions

JUSTIN P. WILSON, Tennessee Comptroller

Comptroller: Cannon County Needs To Centralize Its Money-Handling Functions

The last few months should have been eye-opening for Cannon County taxpayers.

First, our office released a special report on the Cannon County REACH After-School Program, which documented that the program’s former executive director made numerous questionable spending decisions – many of which appeared to be for her own personal gain.

Not long after that, our office released its regular annual audit on Cannon County government, which identified a dozen areas of concern with the manner in which public dollars are being managed.

This is no small problem. Cannon County government spends about $26 million worth of your money each year.

Here’s the frustrating part of this: Many of the problems identified in these audits could have been avoided if the county had one central office responsible for budgeting, purchasing and accounting.

As it stands now, responsibilities for those functions are handled separately by the general government department, the highway department and the school department.

So how would a centralized office of accounting, budgeting and purchasing help? First of all, in order to be effective, it would be led by someone with formal training in accounting and finance. That alone could lead to the elimination of many of the accounting mistakes identified in this year’s audit.

A centralized office would also allow the county executive, road supervisor and director of schools to concentrate on running their respective departments without undue worry about whether financial matters were being properly handled.

A centralized office would remove the inefficiency of having separate departments all trying to handle essentially the same functions.

Also, the county would benefit from having standardized bidding and purchasing procedures across all of its departments. This would avoid potentially embarrassing situations in which departments purchase the same items at different prices.

Centralized record-keeping would be another advantage, as would continuity of operations as the elected officials who run those departments come and go.

Yes, there would be some cost associated with setting up a central office and hiring a finance director. However, as recent events in Cannon County have demonstrated, a central office could also protect taxpayer money from being lost to fraud, waste or abuse.

Our office has been recommending that counties centralize their budgeting, purchasing and accounting operations for about four decades. To date, 50 of 95 counties have implemented some form of centralization.

Our goal is for all 95 counties to take that step. Is Cannon County ready?

Justin P. Wilson is Tennessee’s Comptroller of the Treasury. To report fraud, waste or abuse in government in Tennessee, call the Comptroller’s fraud hotline at 1-800-232-5454.