By Mike Rutledge, Post staff reporter
The county plans to advertise its intentions beginning Thursday and hopes to select an auditing firm by May 23.
But Jim Urling, chairman of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), questioned whether the outside auditors could be independent if they report directly to the county's administration.
Urling said in an interview that commissioners should ask county Auditor Dusty Rhodes - who is independently elected - to oversee the auditors.
''All I can say is: 'Here we are again ...,''' Urling said about the plans to have the outside auditors reporting to the county administration. ''Their political livelihood is at stake. There is an inherent conflict between that and an honest audit.''
''Why don't we hire an auditor to oversee the auditor to oversee the auditor to oversee the project?'' Commissioner John Dowlin asked sarcastically this morning in response to Urling's comments.
Rhodes has said he can oversee the auditors without additional cost to taxpayers.
County officials have been criticized for insufficient auditing of the Bengals' project, particularly at the start of construction.
Commissioner Todd Portune has criticized administrators for moving slowly to hire outside auditors for the Reds' project, following promises in early January they would do so.
Dowlin and Portune voted this morning to seek comments from both Rhodes and Ohio Auditor Jim Petro on ways to strengthen the county's proposal for independent auditing.
Urling noted that before county Administrator David Krings unveiled a damaging audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers on Feb. 14, 2000, the county spent tens of thousands of dollars on a public relations firm to handle the bombshell announcement.
The Republican-controlled commission has been reluctant to bring in Rhodes, a Democrat. But Rhodes this morning told The Post he is willing to oversee the auditors.
Publication date: 04-04-01
The issue: Ballpark oversight
Our view: Let Dusty do it
Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes relishes the role of watchdog over county government spending.
He doesn't get as many opportunities to sniff out problems as he'd like. Throughout most of Rhodes' 10-year tenure in the auditor's office, an all-Republican commission has controlled the county's purse strings. The GOP commissioners didn't want Rhodes - a Democrat - looking into their spending habits.
But voters broke up the GOP club in the commissioners' chambers last November when they elected Democrat Todd Portune.
Now Rhodes may have an important new opportunity to serve as guardian of the public's interest on the most expensive county-financed project on the horizon - the $346 million Cincinnati Reds' Great American Ball Park.
GOP Commissioner John Dowlin, frustrated with county administrators' delays in hiring an independent auditor to monitor spending on the ballpark, says he may vote with Portune to let Rhodes get involved.
We hope he does. Close scrutiny of spending on major construction projects such as the Reds' stadium can save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, commissioners failed to recognize that fact during the recent construction of the $458 million Paul Brown Stadium. As a result, spending ran unchecked.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers audit of the Bengals stadium found there was insufficient justification for $17 million of the $51 million cost overruns. The audit also pointed to 21 spending controls that county officials should have had in place, but did not.
Commissioners hope to use the auditor's findings to help recoup some of that money from contractors on the Bengals stadium. That's the best they can do at this point; and we hope they succeed.
But such costly mistakes should never have been allowed to happen on the Bengals' project - and they absolutely must be avoided on the Reds ballpark.
County commissioners should move quickly to hire independent auditors with construction project expertise to make sure taxpayers get the most they can for their money this time around. Counting on the good will of contractors to keep costs under control is bad business - and bad government.
Commissioners also should accept Rhodes' offer to oversee the audit work. Rhodes doesn't have the staff or experience to handle the whole process, but he could be valuable.
After all, he's proven himself a quite capable watchdog when given the chance.
Publication date: 04-03-01
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FROM: Dusty Rhodes (946-4047)
DATE: February 2, 2001
National Recognition For Rhodes' Report
For the sixth straight year, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes has received national recognition for his annual Citizen's Financial Report.
The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) has given its Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Annual Financial Reporting to Hamilton County for the report covering the fiscal year ending December 31, 1999.
To receive the award, a government unit must issue a Popular Annual Financial Report whose contents conform to program standards of creativity, presentation, understandability and reader appeal.
Hamilton County's report was prepared by the Auditor's Finance Department and was published as a supplement last fall in "The Cincinnati Enquirer" and "The Cincinnati Post".
The award follows a similar award for the county's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report announced last month.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FROM: Dusty Rhodes (946-4047)
DATE: January 11, 2001
RHODES WINS RECORD EIGHTH FINANCIAL REPORTING AWAR
For the eighth straight year, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes has received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA).
The certificate is the highest possible recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting and was awarded for the county's eighth Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) released last year for 1999.
The CAFR was judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program including demonstrating a constructive "spirit of full disclosure" of the county's financial picture. The GFOA serves approximately 14,000 government finance professionals in North America.
Rhodes and his staff prepared the county's first-ever CAFR for 1992, his first full year as County Auditor.
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County retains $9 dog fee, aims to license more animals
By Mike Rutledge, Post staff reporter
In Toledo and Lucas County, where a high percentage of dogs are licensed, the county dog warden knocks on doors to aggressively seek out unlicensed dogs.
Now Lucas County may become a model for Hamilton County efforts to increase the number of $9 dog licenses issued here.
Hamilton County Commissioners decided Monday not to raise the fee, while trying to increase dog registrations. County officials estimate that for this county's Dog and Kennel Fund to break even at the $9 rate, the county must sell 76,533 individual dog licenses, and penalize owners of another 2,500 dogs at $18 apiece. As of Monday afternoon, only 55,110 dogs were registered.
Last year in Lucas County - which has about half Hamilton County's population - 61,489 licenses were sold.
Each year, Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon and his eight deputy dog wardens obtain lists of dogs that were licensed the year before and knock on the doors of their owners to see why the dogs haven't been registered again, said Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala.
In Hamilton County, the auditor's office mails out notices to owners of dogs that were licensed a year earlier.
But Kaczala said ''the enforcement isn't really the auditor or the county commissioners. It's the dog warden.''
There's something else in Lucas County that prompts people to license their dogs, Kaczala said: ''Once or twice a year, there's a really bad case of a dog being put to sleep because they didn't have a dog license.''
In Hamilton County, the commissioners contract with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for dog warden services.
Yet in contracts with the SPCA, the commissioners have not paid them based on performance, but have paid them in a lump sum, a practice criticized by Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes.
The SPCA also has mingled public funds with its other money, a practice that makes it difficult to track how taxpayer money has been spent, a Cincinnati Post investigation found. State Auditor Jim Petro's office has recmmended the commissioners require greater oversight of the spending.
Rhodes has argued for years that the way to increase the county's dog-fund revenues is to license more of the the tens of thousands of dogs that go unlicensed. And the best way to do that is by fining people who are caught breaking the law, he said.
Through July, 54,438 dogs were licensed across the county, up almost 1 percent from 54,029 in 1998 and well above the 53,553 in 1997, according to Rhodes' office. And with the increased enforcement, the county had 55,110 dogs registered Monday afternoon, with about another 250 licenses scheduled to be picked up from outlets, said Kevin Pyle, Rhodes' director of assessments.
Publication date: 08-31-99
© Copyright 1999, The Cincinnati Post. All Rights Reserved.
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D O G OW N E R ' S G U I D E
State auditor wants accountability in SPCA animal control contract
from DOG OWNER'S GUIDE - August 1999 By Norma Bennett Wolf
Ohio Auditor Jim Petro declined to conduct a state audit of the Hamilton County SPCA but suggested that the county contract with the organization be rewritten to add financial safeguards that are missing in the current agreement.
Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes has argued with commissioners over the content of the SPCA contract since 1997 because the organization did not submit detailed records to show how they spend taxpayers' money. He requested the state audit when stories in the Cincinnati Post reported that the SPCA commingled the government contract flinds with SPCA general funds and that companies owned by SPCA board members provided insurance and mailing services out of county funds without bids and the SPCA failed to include that information in federal tax returns.
Petro's letter to Rhodes said that the SPCA is a vender providing services to the county and that the current contract is too broad in specifying the services to be rendered and the records to be provided. In addition, Petro said, "... the commissioners should consider including a conflict of interest clause which would specifically prohibit a board member of the SPCA to personally benefit financially due to their position on the board."
The contract with the SPCA is paid out of the dog and kennel fund, which gets its money from dog licenses and from fines paid for violations of leash and licensing laws. In January, the commissioners raised the SPCA contract $5,424 per month to $50,624 and made the raise retroactive to January 1993. The dog and kennel fund was forced to dip into revenues from the 1999 license sales to pay the retroactive amount and went into the new year facing a serious shortage.
The commissioners advanced enough money to the fund to cover the contract for six months, expecting that the advance would be returned when the license fund caught up. But the county prosecutor opined that advances are improper, that money put into the fund must be by transfer without the expectation of return.
The Hamilton County dog license fee is $9 per year; but compliance is spotty. About 57,000 dogs are licensed in the county, but according to national estimates, only about 35 percent of dogs are licensed.
In April, the county administrator suggested raising the license fee to $14, but commissioners nixed the idea.
Harold Dates, chief dog warden for the county and general manager of the SPCA, told commissioners that he opposes a license fee hike because it places a further burden on responsible dog owners to carry the animal control program.
Publication date: August 1999
© Copyright 1999, Dog Owner's Guide. All Rights Reserved.
The county auditor is in Home values online 24 hours
Connections column by Stan SulkesIt all started with a guy noodling on his computer.
It ended with . . . , who knows where it will end, but even as you read this, the project he conceived is already affecting every homeowner in Hamilton County.
I am referring to the auditor's Web page, which went online in January and tracks valuations on the 333,000 homes and commercial properties in the county.
Does it work?
Well, I'm in the process of changing residences, so I logged onto the site. I entered my name and up popped the record on my home - number of rooms, taxes, market value and so on. By next year, these records will also display digitized pictures of all our houses.
This countywide project is the brainchild of auditor Dusty Rhodes, who envisioned it while he was doodling with his personal Web page.
Why not publish the county records? he thought.
Online, Rhodes could shred the veils of secrecy surrounding county assessments. Were there errors in the process? Was there favoritism?
The solution: put it all out on display and allow people to judge for themselves.
''From the moment Dusty took office (in 1991), he was intent on getting information to the public, on taking the mystery out of government,'' says Terry Munz, director of data processing for the auditor.
''With the Internet we've been able to create a 24-hour- a-day office on a seven-hour-a-day budget,'' he adds.
Rhodes' auditor project is the third auditor/assessor Web page in the United States, the first in Ohio.
Already homeowners have contacted the auditor's office to correct misspellings, erroneous house numbers and the like.
Who will find the information most useful?
Appraisers, mortgage companies, buyers, sellers and those simply wishing to research their family homes.
By next year, Rhodes hopes to add not only pictures but mapping capabilities.
That would allow users to conduct specialized searches, such as locating a prospective home on a golf course.
Oh, and another thing: have you ever found a lost pet with a license tag? Soon you will be able to find its owner online.
The auditor's Web page: http://www.hamiltoncountyauditor.org Here you will find information on dog licenses, boat registration, estate taxes, tax rates, weights and measures, and a summary of the county's Citizens Financial Report.
For valuations,click on ''real estate.'' Searches can be on address, current owner, and parcel ID.
Stan Sulkes teaches at UC's Raymond Walters College. Know a tri-stater who's doing something interesting with the Internet? If so, drop Sulkes a note at email@example.com.
Publication date: 05-04-98
© Copyright 1998, The Cincinnati Post. All Rights Reserved.
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