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Late filings hide how tax dollars are being spent

Auditor says public access to agencies’ financial reports is crucial for taxpayers.

First Published Feb 28 2014 03:47 pm • Last Updated Feb 28 2014 09:35 pm

State Auditor John Dougall says dozens of local government agencies are consistently late in filing annual budget and financial reports that allow residents to see how their tax dollars were spent.

So in addition to withholding taxpayer funds totaling nearly $900,000 from the entities, the office is asking Utahns to badger these late filers until they cough up the information. Holding the entities accountable promotes government transparency, the auditor’s office says.

At a glance

Delinquent filers

Visit http://1.usa.gov/1d2Jgzv to see the state Auditor’s list of local governmental entities that are late in filing annual budget and financial reports.

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"These reports allow citizens to see the intended and actual use of their tax funds within their local government," the office said Thursday in a news release.

Nearly 1,000 local entities — including cities, counties and special-service districts — are required to file the reports with the auditor’s office, which conducts financial and program performance audits, among other duties. The reports show how money was budgeted and how it was spent.

The office says it has made a "concerted effort" to help the government agencies come into compliance through written reminders and visits by auditor employees to assist them in preparing the reports.

But as of Tuesday, 53 entities had failed to file more than 200 required reports from 2003 to 2012, according to the auditor’s office.

In many cases, the office can withhold taxpayer money that was collected until the reports are updated. The Hyde Park Cemetery Maintenance District in Cache County recently filed 10 of 11 late reports but because it still has not complied with all requirements, the entity cannot use nearly $249,000 in taxes collected for its use.

Lynn Thomas, one of three volunteers who serves on a board that runs Hyde Park, said the district has fallen behind partly because of complex reporting requirements. In addition, he said, the district has only one employee, who works part time.

"We’re a volunteer organization," Thomas said. "It’s hard to keep up with that (the reporting) and everything else we do because it’s all volunteer."

He thinks the withheld money will be released next week and said the cemetery district has been operating on other funds. Other than late reporting, "we run a pretty efficient operation," Thomas said.

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Other delinquent filers include Eureka City, which is shorting itself $149,616, and Lehi Metropolitan Water District, which is missing out on $100,398, the office says. The water district and Eureka could not be reached for immediate comment.

Some local governments do not receive state-allocated funds or property taxes but are required to file reports. One of them, the Utah Municipal Finance Agency, a pooled capital improvement financing program for member municipalities and districts, has not filed since 2005, the auditor’s office says. The finance agency also could not be reached for comment.

All entities should let residents know how they use their money, the auditor’s office says.

"The office encourages Utahns to hold their local governments accountable for their stewardship of taxpayer funds," it says, "including asking about delinquent reports and associated withheld funds."

pmanson@sltrib.com Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

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