The Mitchell County Courthouse

OSAGE | The Mitchell County Board of Supervisors is considering changes to how it handles funding requests from outside organizations.  

During Tuesday's board meeting, Chairman Steve Smolik said, "We've been kind of scolded" by the auditing firm of Renner & Birchem, PC, on possibly questionable expenditures. 

Renner and Birchem's recently-released audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, states certain expenditures may not meet the requirements of public purpose spending as defined in a 1979 Attorney General's opinion. 

The expenditures in question were $14,250 for the Riceville Industrial Park; $2,500 to the city of Mitchell for a park project; $1,800 to the Mitchell County Substance Abuse Coalition; and $500 each to the Carpenter BBQ Bash, the St. Ansgar Senior Center (for coats), the Mitchell County Booster Club, the Riceville Community Club (for Wapsi Days), and St. Ansgar Town & Country Days. 

"According to the (Attorney General's) opinion, it is possible for such disbursements to meet the test of serving a public purpose under certain circumstances, although such items will certainly be subject to a deserved close scrutiny," the audit report stated. "The line to be drawn between a proper and an improper use is very thin."

Renner & Birchem recommends the county establish written policies and procedures for giving funds to cities and community organizations for projects and document the public purpose served by each expenditure.  

Smolik said the supervisors had "good intentions" when granting funding requests, but they also need to "tighten things up." 

Both Smolik and Supervisor Barb Francis said it might be a good idea to give cities and organizations money for the first year of a particular project to get it started, but after that it would be up to other entities in the community to help with the funding. 

Smolik brought up the audit report after Darla Olson, director of Iowa State University Extension for Mitchell County, asked the supervisors to contribute funds toward providing training for members of an informal leadership group of county residents that has been meeting for several months. 

"This group has a ton of great ideas and the excitement to initiate these ideas," Olson said. 

Going through the Leading Communities program offered by Extension will help give group members some direction on the best way to proceed, she said. 

Extension is willing to provide $4,000 toward funding the training, while Mitchell County Economic Development Commission Director Tony Stonecypher has secured another $1,500 from businesses that have employees in the leadership group. 

Olson said this leaves an additional $2,000 to raise. She requested the supervisors consider contributing at least part of that amount.

Supervisor Stan Walk wasn't at Tuesday's board meeting. Supervisor Barb Francis suggested waiting until the April 9 meeting to make a decision on the funding request so Walk's opinion could be heard. 

Osage resident Chuck Pajer said he has been attending the supervisors' meetings for 15 years, and every year more and more groups ask the county for money "and my taxes don't go down." 

"There has to be a starting point and an ending point," he said. 

Smolik said some of the funding requests the county grants definitely serve a public purpose, such as the one from the substance abuse coalition. 

"They need the funding," he said. "It's worthwhile." 

County Auditor Lowell Tesch said when one of the supervisors makes a motion to approve a funding request, the public purpose of the expenditure should be included. 

"This is tax money," he said. 

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