July 18, 2024

State auditor encourages efficiencies

State of Iowa Auditor Rob Sand, right, meets with Creston area people Tuesday at Rainbow Park in Creston. He visited multiple towns that day.

As Iowa residents have managed their budget with inflation at the retail level, Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand told people in Creston Tuesday how government offices can also do the same and get recognized for their success.

During his town hall meeting in Rainbow Park, Sand, a Democrat, explained his PIE program (public innovation and efficiencies).

As Sand’s office monitors effective and responsible usage of public dollars “but also to promote areas where efficiencies and cost-saving practices can be made. Our office’s Public Innovations & Efficiencies (PIE) Checklist serves to guide Iowans as well as state and local governments on the steps they can take to save money and promote efficiency.”

The program has had area contributions from the cities of Afton, Cromwell and the Union County Emergency Management office. Sand said after government entities submitted their PIE plan, the most effective plans are awarded with actual pie for the staff.

“We look at where they came from, not just where they are,” Sand said about the results of the changes.

Sand explained some ways the program is being used. He knows of certain Iowa landfills that are capturing, containing and selling methane gas. The gas is a byproduct of the decomposition of landfill material. Methane is used commercially. Sand said other entities have converted to LED lighting which is more affordable. For more information, go online to auditor.ia.gov/pie.

PIE is getting the attention as Sand said two other states have created similar programs.

Sand also explained how his office is considering new employees who don’t have a traditional, four-year college degree. He said there are people with skills who only have a two-year degree. That hiring strategy began two years ago and now 10% of the staff have two-year degrees. The program is called Skilled Through Alternate Routes. (STAR)

“There is an accountant shortage across the country,” he said.

Sand also explained his assessment of some state issues.

In December 2023 Koch Ag & Energy Solutions propsoed to purchase OCI Global’s fertilizer plant in Lee County, for $3.6 billion. Since it opened in 2017, it can produce 3.5 million metric tons of nitrogen fertilizers and diesel exhaust fluid annually.

Sand said in January he was against the purchase mainly for how it contradicts everything it was built for. Approved during Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad’s administration, building the plant included $300 million in tax breaks, $133 million in Lee County tax abatements for more than 20 years and another $112 million in state tax credits or forgivable loans.

But the sale eliminates all of that. Sand stated then selling to Koch will likely increase fertilizer costs and Koch will not want to deal with competition.

Sand said the sale offer is still in litigation with the SEC and Department of Justice.

Sand also commented on the state’s school voucher program, approved by state legislation in 2023. The law allowed funding for K-12 students who choose to attend a private school. After the first year, Sand said the program is essentially benefiting private-school families as it uses public funds to pay for private-school tuitions.

The Democrat is still leery about what could happen with the program. Since private schools are not under state government offices, there is no legal oversight of how those funds are used. When he spoke of the vouchers a year ago in Creston, he said funds can be used to pay for trips for school administrators and not on school operations or educating students.

In a related matter, Sand also commented on the failed legislation this year that would have given state departments to use an accountant of their choice, rather than the state auditor’s office. The proposed legislation did include how all audit results must be sent to the state auditor’s office.

“More waste, fraud and abuse,” Sand said about the feelings he had when the bill was considered. It never developed. “Lead us not into temptation,” Sand said, referring to a portion of the Lord’s prayer found in the Bible.

“People in charge don’t want accountability,” he said.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.