SuperTalk Mississippi

Annual state audit clean, but uncovers “red flags”

The findings from the 2017 “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report” have been released.

The report is published each year and details the audit of all state agencies, and how they have handled state appropriated funds over the course of the fiscal year. The report shows that Mississippi fell just $300,000 short of their net position from 2016 and ended 2017 with just under $13.7 billion total. State Auditor Stacey Pickering says that the report reflected some good news, and some not so good news.

“It was a clean audit as far as the overall financial picture, revenue, and expenditures, but we do have some red warning lights that are starting to come on to say that we need to fix some problems structurally of how we handle finances in Mississippi,” Pickering said.

Several departments had red flags raised including MDOT, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and most notably, the Department of Education. Pickering said that of the 27 findings in the report, 15 of them came from the MDE.

He said the findings show misappropriated funds that led to the state having to pay back nearly $11 million. While the struggle to fund public education continues in the state, Pickering noted that this type of oversight cannot continue.

“No individual embezzled or stole money, but it was money that was misappropriated and they did not follow the federal rules, regulations and guidelines in place, and therefore, we were subjected to have to pay money back,” Pickering said. “We’re a poor state, we’re struggling to fund education at the highest priority that we desire as Mississippians. We can’t afford to be having to pay money back and waste money by returning it to the federal government.”

The State Auditor went on to say that the lack of an accounting training manual or program for newcomers working in financial management in Mississippi has contributed to the errors uncovered. While systems exist to track these financials, the funds weren’t there.

“The legislature did not provide enough funding to turn on the controls that allow us to audit and track those funds, and who makes those changes to financials throughout the year,” he explained. “This year the problem was so high that we had $21 billion in corrections that had to make to financial statements in agencies across the state of Mississippi.”

The report provides a detailed look at the state’s financial position and how funds are managed. Pickering noted that the mistakes outlined in the report give leaders a chance to reflect and re-evaluate their strategies for handling state funds before something goes wrong.

“No fraud has taken place yet, but if we don’t get these things fixed, Mississippi is ripe for fraud, waste and abuse,” he said.

The report isn’t all bad as it lists the state’s increased average income, which has been raised from $28,000 to $34,000+ in a 10-year period. Pickering also stated the size of government has shrunk over the past 8-9 years.

“It shows that Mississippi’s economy is moving in the right direction,” Pickering said. “Mississippi families are doing a little bit better, but we always want to see that line go up and continue to do better because that means we will all have a better and brighter future.”

Follow the link to examine the full 172-page report.  2017 – Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

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