Insufficiencies exposed during Santa Rosa County’s performance audit

Posted on December 15, 2019 by Romi White

It was revealed during the December 3 Santa Rosa County Local Option Sales Tax Committee meeting that a performance audit was conducted back in July, and those findings showed multiple deficiencies with county operations.

The August 5 audit report by Texas-based McConnell & Jones, LLP states the county’s process for assessing legal compliance “needs to be strengthened,” noting commissioners on June 27 initially set a referendum vote for the one cent local sales option tax (LOST) for August 27, 2019.

However, that election had to be postponed until October 8 because county officials were unaware of a requirement, per state statutes, that a performance audit be completed 60 days prior to the referendum.

During the December 3 LOST committee meeting, County Administrator Dan Schebler said the audit results had been posted on the county’s website around August 8.

“It’s about 122 pages. It’s audit reading, if you would like to read it,” Schebler said with a laugh, pointing out a 6-page executive summary in supporting documentation for the December 3 meeting. That summary, however, did not specify any of the issues reported by the auditors.

Schebler did provide a brief oral summary of how the county faired with the six tasks and 25 subtasks required of the audit, per state statute.

“Of those six research tasks, we partially met three of the tasks, and we fully met three of the tasks,” Schebler said. “Of the 25 subtasks, we met 16, we partially met 8, and we did not meet one of the subtasks.”

Schebler stated the failed subtask related to not having performance measures identified. “That’s an area that we are focused on in our budget document as well as in this program to identify specific metrics and measures…I knew that going in that would be something that we could not meet, so I was not surprised with the outcome of the audit,” he said.

The only other audit insufficiency Schebler specified during the December 3 meeting was a recommendation for a legislative director position.

“I explained that we’re a small county and that we don’t have the funds for that position. But they still gave us a partially met in that subtasks. So overall it demonstrated that we, and you (LOST committee members) all are a key part of that, appropriately allocating, spending and tracking this fund,” he said.

LOST committee chairman Ed Carson, who also served as chairman of Moving Santa Rosa Forward political action committee, which aimed to pass the LOST referendum, stated he was interviewed “extensively” by the audit firm.

“I would say y’all have done a good job, and I commend you for it,” Carson told Schebler.

The full audit report revealed the following partially met or failed tasks:

  • Santa Rosa County in 2017 purchased project management software which did not meet the county’s need. Now the county is developing in-house software to meet those needs;
  • evaluating program performance using performance measures was not a county priority in the past;
  • the county lacks project file maintenance standards;
  • the county does not have a policy requiring the evaluation of outsourcing;
  • county departments were not required to formally document goals and objectives;
  • some descriptions of performance measures reported in the budget are insufficient to assess program progress;
  • data available from public information office reports are insufficient to ensure information is adequate and accurate;
  • the County does not have a focused government relations function dedicated to staying abreast of legislative changes;
  • inconsistency in documenting and maintaining policies and procedures, resulting in actual expenditures reported in the general fund’s schedule of revenues, expenditures, and changes in fund balance exceeded total appropriations by approximately $11.7 million.

The auditor’s August 5 final report stated, “We conclude that, with the exception of the findings discussed in the report and based upon the work performed, the departments that expend Local Option Sales Tax funds have sufficient policies and procedures in place, supported by appropriate documentation, reports, monitoring tools, and personnel to address the statutory criteria defined in s. 212.055(10) Florida Statutes.”

Schebler praised county staff for responding to “many requests” for information from the auditors. 

“There are going to be some gaps. We haven’t had this sort of capital funding mechanism in the past. There are some things that we can improve on,” he added.


1.1 PARTIALLY MET: Management reports and data are available for program administrators to use on a regular basis to monitor program performance and cost. The reports are adequate and statistical data is plentiful. However, the County’s ability to make data‐driven decisions and predictive analysis is being delayed while another project management solution is being developed internally to replace project management software implemented less than two years ago in September 2017. The County did not develop and document a comprehensive requirements definition or prepare a capabilities analysis for the project management software. Subsequently, the County became dissatisfied with the program after discovering that it did not meet the County’s needs.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Implement proven, more effective practices and approaches to future software acquisitions and development.

1.2 PARTIALLY MET: County departments have performance measures, and they accumulate performance data. In addition, county administrators meet regularly with staff to discuss program performance. However, the County provided no documentation of program evaluations taking place during these meetings using
performance measures or other criteria.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Develop a process for evaluating the performance of each department against their performance measures and use the results to drive continuous improvement.

1.6 PARTIALLY MET: Most of the sample of projects reviewed were completed on time and within budget. However, project file documentation did not always include information requested such as the vendor bid tabulation and completion reports or other documents to verify that the project was completed well.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Maintain consistent and standard project file documentation.

3.2 PARTIALLY MET: Our work revealed that Public Works conducted a cost benefit analysis of paying existing staff overtime versus hiring new staff. Other departments were not able to supply documentation related to whether program administrators have assessed any contracted and/or privatized services to verify effectiveness and cost savings achieved.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: County Departments and Purchasing should collaborate to create a process to document that goods and services are being provided to the County in the most effective manner that achieves the greatest cost savings.

4.1 PARTIALLY MET: Although program goals and objectives are generally clearly stated and consistent with the County’s strategic plan, some of the departments’ goals and objectives lack benchmarks that represent measurable tasks that can be achieved within budget.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Develop and maintain benchmarks for all departments and goals and
objectives which are measurable and can be achieved within budget.

4.2 FAILED: Performance measures are reported in the Fiscal Year 2019 Adopted Budget. Some of the descriptions of the performance measures reported in the budget are insufficient to assess program progress toward meeting its stated goals and objectives. Also, no performance measures were reported in the budget for one department. In addition, key performance measures such as monitoring actual costs to the budget and targeted versus actual completion timelines are not listed as a benchmark.

RECOMMENDATION: Enhance program performance measures to assess program process
toward meeting its stated goals and objectives.

5.2 PARTIALLY MET: Although the County prepares internal analytics reports to measure the County’s website traffic the data obtained from these reports is not sufficient to ensure that information is adequate and accurate.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Establish data quality standards and implement a formal evaluation
process (report) that addresses the adequacy and accuracy of information provided to the public
and communicate these standards and evaluation results to all staff responsible for developing public

6.1 PARTIALLY MET: There is no single function within the County that coordinates the efforts of several parties to track and communicate to County stakeholders new legislation that impacts County operations. Conversely, the County has several means of keeping track of changes to legislation that affect the County; for example, the county attorney, contracted lobbyist, state representatives, and organizations such as the Small County Coalition all play a role. Despite these information sources, county administrators had no explanation for why the performance audit requirements of Florida Statute 212.055(10) were overlooked and a referendum was planned for August 27, 2019.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Coordinate with County Stakeholders, including the County Clerk of Courts and Sheriff’s Office to perform government relations functions to stay abreast of federal, state, and local legislation and to coordinate and disseminate information from agencies such as the Small County Coalition.

6.2 PARTIALLY MET: Documentation and approval of policies requires improvement. Inconsistent competitive bid thresholds exist in the County’s Procurement Manual dated June 27, 2019 and the Accounting Policies and Procedures Manual dated June 16, 2015 of over $35,000 versus over $10,000. In addition, a comprehensive operations manual is not maintained to ensure that all department policies and procedures authorized by management are documented and approved.

AUDITOR’S RECOMMENDATION: Develop and maintain current policy and procedures manuals. Ensure consistency among policies and procedures.