Cost of audit sparks exchange between commissioner, controller



BELLEFONTE — An item that was pulled from the consent agenda at Tuesday’s Centre County commissioners’ meeting led to an exchange between commissioner Mark Higgins and controller Chuck Witmer.

The disagreement stemmed from item “C” in the consent agenda, which was a letter of agreement with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP to conduct an annual audit — required by PennDOT — focusing on financial and service operations for the Centre County Transportation Department. The contract total is estimated at $8,000-$10,000, which is considerably higher than previous years.

“I don’t want to minimize the importance of the transportation department and all the wonderful work they do, but we are checking off a box for the state of Pennsylvania,” Higgins said.

Witmer cut him off.

“Mark, I’ve gotta respectfully disagree with you. I watched your comments from the last meeting. This is not checking off boxes. These are additional schedules,” Witmer said.

Higgins then clarified his comments.

“The state of Pennsylvania requires this audit,” Higgins explained. “When was the last time in 20-plus years that the auditor said we had not done the work properly and the state of Pennsylvania required us to return funds?” Higgins asked.

Witmer said that hasn’t happened in recent memory.

“We haven’t returned funds,” Witmer noted. “There have been cases we have had some audit issues that had to be addressed.”

Witmer explained the purpose of the audit.

“This audit of the transportation department is required by PennDOT and it has to be prepared by an independent, external auditor, auditing firm. (The purpose) is for those auditors to form an opinion about the financial statements that collectively comprise the county’s transportation program. It’s a separate audit, an addition to the county-wide audit that has already been done,” Witmer said.

According to Witmer, the audit must be done by Dec. 31.

“It sounds like that’s far away, but it’s really not. We’d like to get moving on this as soon as possible,” Witmer said.

Commissioner Michael Pipe said that he’d like to see Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP drop the cost of the audit.

“We’re just trying to get the best cost,” Pipe said. “The challenge with this is the range that they’re giving us.”

Higgins said that he’s simply trying to save the county some money.

“If the current auditors are willing to do it for $6,500, great. If we have the option of saving the county roughly $2,000, for an audit that we’ve done for 20-plus years … we have a fiduciary responsibility to the Centre County taxpayer to save a grand or two,” Higgins said.

In the end, Witmer said that he still recommends Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP to do the audit.

“This is a very in-depth audit,” Witmer said.

Additionally, Witmer said that he would not approach them about reducing the cost of the audit.

“I am not going to go to Baker Tilly and ask them to reduce their price to $6,500,” Witmer said matter-of-factly.

In the end, the commissioners tabled the item. It will be addressed, they said, at next week’s meeting.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners:

∫ Approved a revised cooperation agreement for the Grange Park Equine Center Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) project. The agreement formerly approved on Aug. 7, 2018 has been amended to include a third party — Centre County Ponoma Grange No. 13 of the Patrons of Husbandry, the legal land owners of where the project is located.

∫ Approved a cooperative agreement with the Mountaintop Activity Center to receive a reimbursement in the amount of $50,000 through the Keystone Communities Grant for roof and restroom upgrades.

∫ Approved a cooperative agreement with the Mountaintop Community Pool Association to receive reimbursement in the amount of $2,000 through the Keystone Communities Grant for the purchase of an AED and other first aid equipment.

∫ Approved an agreement with Avail Business Systems to remove and reinstally records, relocate temporary filing units, remove cabinet, shelving and three carriages in the prothonotary’s office. The total cost is $2,702.28.

∫ Opened one proposal for the RFP — design and replacement of the Holt Memorial Library HVAC system. The lone bid came from Joseph C. Hazel in Bellefonte and the commissioners tabled the item until the Aug. 20 meeting.

∫ Tabled an RFP for office space locations and buildout for magisterial district court No. 49-1-01 and magisterial district court No. 49-3-05 for contract negotiations.

The commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at the Willowbank Building.