Crow Wing County Board: County solicits private proposals for audit

Crow Wing County officials are seeking cost savings as they look to the private sector to complete a required annual audit. The county board on Tuesday approved sending a letter to the Minnesota Office of the State Auditor, informing it of the co...

Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto
Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto

Crow Wing County officials are seeking cost savings as they look to the private sector to complete a required annual audit.

The county board on Tuesday approved sending a letter to the Minnesota Office of the State Auditor, informing it of the county's intentions to seek proposals from private accounting firms for an audit of the fiscal year ending December 2017.

The letter comes after the Minnesota Legislature passed a law in 2015 permitting counties to pursue private audits. Prior to the law's passage, the state auditor's office conducted the annual audits of 59 Minnesota counties. County governments were required to seek exemptions if officials wished to pursue the use of private firms.

"We don't have any issue with the quality of the audit that the state auditor has performed on our behalf," said Tim Houle, county administrator. "This has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with the quality of the audit. This solely has to do with competitive pricing for a high-quality audit."

Houle added he hoped the state auditor's office itself would submit a proposal to conduct the county's audit.


The GOP-sponsored bill that became law was a sticking point between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton and was a subject of the 2015 special session. The law remained on the books and is now the subject of a lawsuit against the Legislature filed by State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

Otto was vocal in her opposition to the legislation before its passage and has not wavered in her criticism since. In the lawsuit, she contends allowing counties to hire private accounting firms threatens the funding of her office and usurps its authority.

"Counties act as arms of the state government and expend billions of dollars of taxpayer funds each year on behalf of the state," the lawsuit stated. "Auditing counties is the primary core function of the OSA (Office of the State Auditor) and has always been the exclusive responsibility of the executive department of the state government.

"Today, the majority of the OSA's staff and resources are devoted to conducting county audits and approximately 60 percent of the OSA's budget is derived from the fees counties pay for the OSA's audit services."

While the lawsuit is ongoing-a hearing took place in a St. Paul courtroom last week-Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson told the board her office would proceed with seeking proposals in accordance with the law. A decision in the case is expected by Aug. 1, according to a MinnPost article, which is also the date by which counties must inform the state auditor's office whether they intend to use the office's services.

"It will not blindside them to the fact that we are submitting this action," Erickson said, noting during an exit interview for the most recent audit, the county's intentions were made clear. "We do believe there could be a significant savings."

Although the law allows counties to pursue private audits, the state auditor's office will continue to review annual audits to ensure they meet state requirements.

In other business, the county board:


Denied a request from resident Sarah Barrett-Reiner, who sought an exception to the county's policy on the number of entrance approaches allowed to a property. The board was expecting Barrett-Reiner to appear at Tuesday's meeting and were initially advised by Houle to take no action on the matter when she did not appear. At Commissioner Paul Thiede's motion, the board went ahead and denied the request 4-1, with Commissioner Paul Koering opposed.

The matter was an ongoing back-and-forth between County Engineer Tim Bray and Barrett-Reiner. Bray denied her variance request twice before offering a solution of the property owners covering the cost of a culvert for drainage purposes. Barrett-Reiner stated at an earlier county board meeting that her equipment was causing damage to the ditch and adding an approach would alleviate that problem, although she wanted the cost waived.

Approved a request from Mission Township for a funding increase to its recycling program. The request was for funding to expand the township's concrete pad on which its recycling bins sit. Township Supervisor Jim Roach said in an email that the bins are currently lined in two rows of three, but expanding the slab would allow for all six to be lined up in a row.

"Lining them up will help in the winter for snow removal to make them safer to access," the email stated.

Heard the county received an award from the National Association of Counties for its program, "Using proven water planning strategies to effect positive change in Crow Wing County watersheds." The 2016 Achievement Award was in the category of "county resiliency."

Approved an amendment to a joint powers agreement between the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division and the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Bomb Disposal Unit. The agreement establishes funding to reimburse expenses related to bomb call responses outside of Crow Wing County. The amount of available funding was increased from $19,000 to $25,000 per year for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

Authorized an agreement between the Minnesota Department of Corrections and the Crow Wing County Jail for the work release program, effective July 1 through June 30, 2017. There were no changes from the previous arrangement, which pays $55 per day per state offender participating in the program. The total obligation is capped at $100,000.

Approved a temporary on-sale liquor license for the Brainerd Jaycees for Aug. 18-21 at the Brainerd International Raceway.


Supported the lawful gambling application for an exempt permit for the Knights of Columbus for an Aug. 17 event at the St. Mathias Church.

Supported the lawful gambling application for an off-site permit of the Pine Center Sportsmen's Club for a July 3-4 event at The Shed at Pine Center.

Appointed Thiede to serve on the University of Minnesota Extension Committee in place of Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom.

Approved the following new positions: a seasonal part-time grounds worker; a support enforcement aide; and two child support officers.

Approved the hiring of the following people: Keith Leonard, seasonal parks worker, land services; Mathias Grinde, technical support intern, information technology; and Alex Rude, seasonal engineering assistant, highway department.

Approved the reclassification of two part-time social workers to full-time social workers.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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