The Geary County Commission room was packed Monday as department heads and members of the public came to hear a presentation on the prospect of the county having a financial manager by Don Osenbaugh of Osenbaugh Consulting.
The county does not know yet what the position would cost, if it came into being. Osenbaugh said he would be unable to provide a cost estimate at this time because he and his firm would need to gather more information first.
Currently, the office of Register of Deeds Diane Briestensky-Leonard is one of the few county departments that submits a line item budget and every department does their budget differently, according to Commissioner Trish Giordano.
“Everybody in the county should be doing the same thing with line item budgets,” Giordano said. “There’s no transparency. I cannot go into and ask ‘how much are you paying on memberships this year?’ I can’t, can I? For each department? Yeah, you have to look it up and go through each thing. Where if we have a budget that has all these line items on there, we can find that out.”
She said she believes the county needs someone to monitor its budget and to make the budget information more accessible digitally.
“Department heads have no electronic access to their budgets,” Giordano said.
She said she believed a new software program — as mentioned by Briestensky-Leonard — could help, but felt a financial manager was necessary as well and make the system more efficient.
“We need somebody to be monitoring our budget,” Giordano said. “Monitoring it and checking the health.”
Former commissioner Brad Scholz said he felt everything Osenbaugh said a financial coordinator would do was already being done by county department heads.
“The finance manager would prepare an annual budget, would need the help of the department heads, he would project costs and expenses, they’d give a final draft of proposals, they’d do budget monitoring,” he said. “The county along with the department heads are already doing that. Ms. Giordano said that there is no transparency. Every item that every department orders or pays for, the county commissioners — each individual one — look at that and that way if they’ve got questions with regards to that they go to that department heads and ask those. So there’s transparency there also. Where she’s saying there’s no transparency, that’s — I don’t know how you can get more transparent than seeing every single expenditure.”
Scholz said County Counselor Steve Opat, who departs in September, is also there to catch mistakes.
“That’s another reason it’s so important to have a county counselor — which we’re losing in September,” he said. “So we’re already doing these things. If they wanted to update the software and how things roll out that would make it easier for people to understand, I would have no problem with that.”
Scholz and Commissioner Keith Ascher have both expressed concern that Commissioners Giordano and Alex Tyson are newly elected.
“Two thirds of those commissioners have never gone through a budgetary cycle,” Scholz said. “They don’t know what we need.”
However, Giordano said she has experience drafting the budget of the Junction City Police Department.
“I’ve worked with budgets before,” she said.
Giordano said she does not believe what the county is currently doing is sufficient to keep track of its expenses.
“It’s 2021,” she said. “We should not have to be looking through a book of vouchers … That is very inefficient and I have nothing to compare it to. I can go through a book and then I hand the book to (Tyson) and the (Tyson) hands it to (Ascher) and then (Ascher) hands it to (Opat). That is not the way we should be doing business in 2021.”
According to Giordano, the next step in the process will be to hear from another consulting firm, one chosen by Ascher.