Questions remain about county budget actions

There is reason for Mesa County residents to be confused about what, exactly, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has determined with respect to the county’s past handling of revenue and how it recorded that revenue under TABOR Amendment requirements.

On one hand, Mesa County officials last week touted what they said was a finding from the CBI that the county’s handling of the revenue was “proper and supportable” and there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

However, the two men who raised the primary complaints about the county’s handling of this revenue and its bookkeeping under TABOR say they were never interviewed by the CBI.

Furthermore, the state agency told The Daily Sentinel’s Duffy Hayes last week that its investigation hasn’t been completed. A report is expected to be released later this month.

We’ll reserve judgment until that report is released. But, it will come as little surprise if, as the county says it has been told, the CBI finds no evidence of criminal misconduct on the part of any members of the county staff. We have been skeptical of that possibility from the beginning, since there has been no evidence submitted that anybody at the county personally benefited from any of the revenue transactions in question.

Also, it’s important to note that the accusations about incorrect handling of county revenue all involve actions taken under a previous set of county commissioners and during the tenure of a previous county administrator. Current County Administrator Tom Fisher, with the support of the present county commissioners, requested the investigation to attempt to put to rest allegations that county officials a few years back had improperly handled county revenue.

The current Board of Commissioners did decide earlier this year that a change made under a previous board to exclude county sales tax revenue from TABOR revenue calculations was a mistake, and they have since restored the sales tax money in the TABOR ledger. That’s important because it affects the county’s revenue limits under TABOR and when the county is legally bound to return money to taxpayers.

Critics of the county’s bookkeeping practices, including two former county finance directors, maintain that county officials seven or eight years ago misreported money received from the Union Pacific Railroad for construction of the bridge over 30 Road, and improperly created an enterprise fund for the county building department. Those two actions combined, they say, reduced the county’s liability to return taxpayers’ money under TABOR by tens of millions of dollars.

They have a good deal of documentary ammunition to back up their claims. But those are issues more properly to be handled by forensic accounting experts than a state agency that focuses on criminal matters.

Once the CBI report is completed, if questions remain regarding those issues, the county may need to consider engaging forensic accounting specialists to determine if previous county officials violated TABOR requirements.


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