County to watch fair association
Cass County commissioners said they'll ask more questions the next time the Red River Valley Fair asks for taxpayer dollars. A recent fair audit found a widespread lack of financial controls - especially with cash-handling practices - resulting i...
Cass County commissioners said they'll ask more questions the next time the Red River Valley Fair asks for taxpayer dollars.
A recent fair audit found a widespread lack of financial controls - especially with cash-handling practices - resulting in an investigation of possible overpayments to some entertainers.
The county regularly allocates money to the fair to help pay for exhibit premiums and liability insurance. It plans to give the fair $104,400 this year.
"I would expect there to be some better monitoring put into place between now and next summer, when budgeting happens," County Commission Chairman Vern Bennett said.
The county requires financial statements, but not regular audits from the outside groups it helps fund, county Auditor Mike Montplaisir said.
The state auditor's office is also not responsible for auditing groups like the fair, said the agency's director, Ed Nagel Jr.
Cass County's 2006 budget includes $1.9 million for eight public service agencies, including the fair.
Some of those organizations, such as the Cass County Historical Society, were audited by independent firms last year but not the Red River Valley Fair Association.
"I'm kind of surprised that the fair doesn't have an audit every year," Montplaisir said.
A 1994 audit conducted by Eide Helmeke found the fair's financial statements and operations acceptable.
In recent years, the fair relied on an annual financial report published with a disclaimer stating that the financial statements were not audited.
In the most recent audit, handed to the fair last week, the Fargo firm Widmer Roel was unable to form an opinion on the audit because of inadequate records.
For example, the fair wrote checks for cash to pay entertainers, to fill ATMs and for startup funds, but it didn't get receipts from entertainers or track the cash placed in ATMs, the firm found.
"I think the thing that's most surprising is that the board itself was surprised," Bennett said. "When you're dealing with cash rather than checks and things of that nature, boards - whether they're elected or appointed or selected - need to be involved."
Bennett doesn't want to prevent the fair from getting the money it was allocated this year but said he may want to see regular audits.
Commissioners Robyn Sorum and Ken Pawluk expect the fair board to undergo more scrutiny during the next budget period.
"Next year there'll be a lot more questions asked, definitely," Sorum said.
Another commissioner, Scott Wagner, thinks the fair board should meet with the county to answer questions about the audit and other problems. The County Commission has asked other groups for similar meetings, he said.
Wagner and Sorum - both members of the 50-person fair association - applaud the board for acting to solve its problems. Earlier this fall, for example, the fair association hired Great Plains Benefit Group, a Bismarck consulting firm, to conduct a performance review of the fair board and management.
Thursday, the fair board hired Great Plains Benefit Group to help it find a new fair manager. The board voted in December not to renew the contract of Bruce Olson, fair manager for 15 years. Olson is now suing the fair board.
"I believe they're taking the right steps," Sorum said.
Sorum is a member of a fair association committee set up to search for a new fair manager.
"Like with everything else, when you have a problem that arises, you have to move forward instead of trying to move backward, of course," Sorum said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556