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State auditor says conservation district did better in its 2003 audit

Fred VanBenschoten, who manages a farm off Cultus Bay Road in Clinton, said a newly constructed barn on the property was funded by the Whidbey Island Conservation District. The barn will soon be used to store manure to keep it from contaminating water in nearby wetlands. The barn will store the manure until it has dried and can be used as fertilizer. - Jennifer Conway
Fred VanBenschoten, who manages a farm off Cultus Bay Road in Clinton, said a newly constructed barn on the property was funded by the Whidbey Island Conservation District. The barn will soon be used to store manure to keep it from contaminating water in nearby wetlands. The barn will store the manure until it has dried and can be used as fertilizer.
— image credit: Jennifer Conway

In the Whidbey Island Conservation District’s 2003 audit, released earlier this month, the Washington State Auditor’s Office found the district demonstrated a marked improvement since its previous audit the year before.

According to Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman for the auditor’s office, the district made many improvements in the last year, including managing their assets and taking proactive steps to solve their previous financial problems. This year, the auditor’s office did not find anything significant to report.

“That’s the best outcome you could hope for in an audit,” Chambers said.

The conservation district was organized in 1967 as a subdivision of the state Conservation Commission. It provides assistance to local landowners in the preservation and conservation of natural resources by providing technical expertise, assistance with regulatory issues, education and funding opportunities.

The district is governed by a board of supervisors composed of three elected officials and two officials appointed by the Conservation Commission.

In an audit one year ago, the auditor’s office found the district had done a poor job of managing its money from 2000 to 2002. Chambers said the office had six findings of financial irregularities important enough to report. In 2004, the auditor’s office found the district was in need of stronger internal controls to show they are capable of protecting public resources.

Specifically in the 2000-02 period, the auditor’s office found the district had not maintained accurate and complete accounting records. The district had been unable to generate financial statements for the year of 2002, maintained inaccurate and incomplete monthly treasurer reports, bank statement reconciliations were not performed or were inadequate and they assumed unauthorized debt and reported the proceeds received from the debt as operating revenues.

Chambers said the district’s board took steps beginning in 2004 to clean up the district’s financial practices. The board assumed took of the accounting system and records and worked towards establishing consistent accounting procedures.

Chambers said the district, in adopting new internal policies, now pays employees monthly and on the same day each month.

“All these things are really good steps to correct the things we found before,” Chambers said about the districts actions.

Fred VanBenschoten, the district’s internal auditor since March 2002, said he feels great about the district’s improvements and the recent audit.

“There were no findings,” he said.

VanBenschoten said the district made many changes to turn their finances around.

“There just wasn’t the accountability,” he said.

VanBenschoten said the board of supervisors assumed control of the finances and changed the way things had been done in the past. By adopting new policies to assume better control over the districts funds, maintaining current and concrete finances, VanBenschoten said the board was able to resolve every single one of the problems the state auditor found.

“We took them one by one and went through them,” he said.

VanBenschoten, who finishes his term as the internal auditor this month, said he was glad to see the district come full circle since his tenure with the district.

“The board is more involved in taking more oversight,” he said. “All of the findings had resolutions to them.”

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