Press Editorial: Questions surround errorWow. A decimal point sure did cause a problem for the state accounting gurus and a disappointment for the Dickinson community.
Wow. A decimal point sure did cause a problem for the state accounting gurus and a disappointment for the Dickinson community.
State leaders announced Wednesday that $9 million that was to be set aside for a renovation to the Dickinson State University Stoxen Library is not available — at least for now, as they had said would be during a January press conference.
It’s an honest mistake, they say, and though of magnificent proportions, we have to live with that. It does make one question who is overlooking our money. No doubt, many have misplaced a decimal point in their own checkbooks but a decimal mistake when dealing with millions seems a bit out of line.
We also don’t understand why all the fanfare with city, DSU and state leaders in Dickinson on Jan. 13 during a press conference announcing the $9 million for the project.
The decimal mistake was discovered Dec. 31 and corrected Jan. 7, the state treasurer said during Wednesday’s press conference. OK, let’s make sure we have this correct:
- End of December - Deposit comes in to state office and $12 million mixed up with $1.2 million.
- Dec. 31 - Mistake discovered.
- Jan. 7 - Mistake corrected.
- Jan. 13 - Big dog and pony show announcement with state and local leaders on DSU campus announcing $9 million going toward library renovation.
- Feb. 10 - Big announcement with state and local leaders on DSU campus announcing $9 million will not go toward library renovation at this time because of mistake.
The accounting error is made and corrected, however, why didn’t someone let Gov. John Hoeven know that this wasn’t a done deal before he and a number of others traveled partway across the state to make the announcement at DSU?
The state knew about this mistake a week before the fanfare. Does no one communicate between the offices of the state treasurer and the governor?
And why did it take until now to inform the public of the mistake? This incident was more than a month ago.
This is how the error happened, according to state officials and how Stoxen and three other projects were affected: There were three “triggers,” or appropriations by the Legislature, for funding, and two of the three were not affected.
If on Sept. 30, the state was $22 million over forecast, the Bank of North Dakota would give the Health Information Technology officer $5 million to use for health information technology loans. That trigger was met.
If on Dec. 1 the state was $5 million ahead of forecast, the Centers of Excellence would be appropriated an additional $5 million. That trigger was met.
Next was the DSU library renovation. That trigger was erroneously met because of the decimal point misplacement.
Pam Sharp, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the accounting system stays open for about 11 days after the end of each month to make any changes and apply things that didn’t get into the accounting system.
“They made that correction on Jan. 7 but they did not apply it back to the month of December,” Sharp said Thursday. “The very first revenue reports that I get out of the system are not until the first of the month so I didn’t see any accounting reports that could tell me that information until the first of the month (February).”
“The only way we could have known that they (treasurer’s office) made that adjustment is if they would have told us otherwise we’d have to go and look at their source documentation, which we don’t do,” Sharp said Thursday.
Hopefully this doesn’t mean the end to the DSU project.
On a much smaller scale, Medora and Dickinson have also been in the news recently for accounting trouble and one begins to question what safeguards are in place for taxpayer funds.
One must also question how many other decimal points are out there floating around, not quite in their correct homes and how the public goes about making sure they get put back in the right place.
— The Dickinson Press Editorial Board meets weekly to discuss community issues.