Dialogue created among county departments


County government officials created a new department last summer in hopes of developing a dialogue among different departments and the Board of Supervisors, and officials say the progress made so far is encouraging.

Dana Aschenbrenner, the head of the county Finance Department, said before he worked at the division, he heard complaints about how the budgeting process did not seem to involve the departments after a while.

“One of our primary initiatives as far as the budgeting process goes was to involve the departments more and more,” Aschenbrenner said. “Just to keep them up to speed as far as where the board’s direction was going in regards to not only their department but the county overall.”

One year later, the department’s newest development is to set up a webpage that will allow anyone to look at the budget of Johnson County to further improve the transparency of the county government. 

The website still needs to be approved by the supervisors. If approved, the website should be established by September.

When the division was created in June 2013, officials said it was not in response to a former auditor’s actions, which took funding from a separate department budget.

Tom Slockett, the former Johnson County auditor, purchased $69,350 worth of equipment for which the supervisors had only authorized $4,130 in December 2011.

To improve the budgeting process, the department created three steps to help create better communication and more efficient feedback.

Once the Finance Department was created, other departments in the county started meeting with it to formulate budget proposals. Officials from the finance committee also encouraged other departments to ask questions and contact them about budgeting.

The Finance Department has also branched out of just improving the budget process by beginning risk management for the county and doing fleet management.

“We’ve relied pretty much on our insurance agent prior to this,” Supervisor Pat Harney said. “It’s better to have that in-house and have our policies.”

Along with helping create budget proposals, the finance committee also meets with the supervisors after a department’s budget is produced.

Officials from the Finance Department also started attending the supervisors’ budget meeting with the other departments.

The Finance Department helped to answer questions if the departments were unsure of how to explain something on the budget, which helped the supervisors understand the priorities of each department and the effects of the budget.

Besides working with each department, the Finance Department has expanded the budget information from two years to five years to allow the departments to better predict their needs.

After a year of work, some officials said the Finance Department seems to have had a significant positive effect on the county departments.

“I like what I’ve seen after our first year,” Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “We get more professional, accurate, and timely reports, and we are on top of all mandated requirements of the state of Iowa.”

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