County whittles down Whitewater project value
Auditor suggests move in light of smaller than anticipated returns
Mesa County on Monday reluctantly reduced the book value of its investment in the Whitewater Improvement District by $5 million, but not without sharp words aimed at an auditor who prompted the action.
The write-down doesn’t affect the county’s ability to recoup its investment, which was prompted by an expected population boom in Whitewater that has yet to take place. It also changed the way the county plans its capital projects.
For the moment, however, it means that the county will get an unqualified auditor’s opinion on its finances, something officials prize as the county contemplates asking voters to boost the sales tax for law enforcement.
Commissioner Rose Pugliese lit into the auditing firm, Chadwick, Steinkirchner and Davis, for the auditor’s about-face on how the county should treat the loan to the district.
Chadwick, Steinkirchner and Davis hasn’t complained about the county’s handling of the loan until now, Pugliese said.
“Did you not know what you were doing then or do you not know what you’re doing now?” Pugliese asked Lisa Hemann, an audit principal with Chadwick Steinkirchner and Davis.
“This year we identified it as a high-risk area,” Hemann responded, noting that there is little prospect of the county collecting any money back in the next five to 10 years.
“Financial statements are supposed to tell a true story,” Hemann said.
Pugliese reminded Hemann that she voted against hiring Chadwick, Steinkirchner and Davis as the county’s auditor and that she was looking forward to interviewing possible replacements.
She also was looking forward to such an interview, Hemann said.
The county “has never dipped into the negative” in its capital spending, Commissioner John Justman noted.
Nothing prohibited the county from recouping its money, and that likely will occur eventually, commissioners said.
“There’s still hope out there,” Commissioner Scott McInnis said.
The county has carried as an asset $8 million spent in Whitewater and other improvement districts since identifying the Whitewater area as a growth area.
It treats the development as an asset that could be used to fund additional capital development well down the road. Those projects are cycled into funding sources as they approach the time for construction.
The process allows the county to prioritize its projects, County Administrator Frank Whidden said.
That practice became a flash point last year when a former county finance director and a certified public accountant criticized it, saying that the county was planning projects for which it couldn’t pay.
The auditor’s insistence on writing down the value of the asset vindicated their criticism, Dennis Simpson, the CPA, told the commission.
Simpson and the former finance director. William Voss, are owed an apology, “which I’m pretty sure we won’t get,” Simpson said.
He was right about that.
Simpson and Voss filed affidavits questioning the county’s budget practices with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, which took no action.
The complaints were “frivolous” and cost the county “thousands and thousands of dollars” to defend, McInnis said.
The county nonetheless appreciates constructive criticism, “and I stress the word ‘constructive,’ ” McInnis said.
As an immediate consequence, the county will delay plans to work on a bridge project along Colorado Highway 340 on the Redlands and another on 24 Road near I Road.
Both can be reconsidered in the 2018 budget, said Pete Baier, deputy county administrator for operations, who said the projects had been discussed with individual commissioners.