Officials with a state accountability agency gave Osceola County high marks this week in an audit required to take place before a special one-cent sales tax increase appears on a May ballot.
That audit, as required by Florida law, is available to the public on the county's website now through the May 21 election.
Osceola County plans to ask voters to support a 1 percent sales tax hike that would generate an estimated $67 million a year, according to county officials, to go toward road and transportation projects.
A 2018 Florida law requires the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to audit any government body that’s considering putting a tax initiative before voters.
The county passed the audit overall, demonstrating to the outside firm of McConnell & Jones of Houston that it was fiscally responsible enough to implement the tax through its Public Works and Transportation and Transit departments.
The proposed program was assessed on 25 different criteria, of which auditors found the county “met” or “partially met” 96 percent of those objectives. It only failed to meet one.
Volusia County, which is proposing a half-penny sales tax increase the same day Osceola County votes, recently completed the same process by the same outside firm contracted by OPPAGA. It also failed to meet one of the 25 measures.
Some high marks for Osceola County noted in the audit report show that the county has policies and procedures in place to take maximum advantage of competitive project procurements and special pricing agreements to get the best value for services. It also found that departments have minimum overlapping functions to keep administrative costs low.
Auditors also stated that program administrators took responsible and timely action to demonstrate that planned uses of the sales surtax comply with state laws and regulations.
But the audit also noted room for improvement in certain areas, such as the county’s website – especially keeping it up to date. In its response at the beginning of the report, the county stated it is establishing a formalized annual schedule where each department will be required to review its section of the website and social media for accuracy and timeliness, along with other measures.
According to the online audit final draft, the county could improve how it measures the progress of projects. Auditors noted that the county lacks a report that clearly provides metrics to show that projects are being completed on time and within budget.
The county was able to provide that information, but as the audit noted, it existed on various reports instead of one, comprehensive model that would “allow the county to monitor cost and timeliness for completed projects in a transparent way.”
Auditors recommended Osceola examine how other counties report performance measures to improve their system.
This was the lone objective the county failed to meet in the 122-page audit.
It’s something County Manager Don Fisher said staff is working to improve.
“We document things on a project by project basis,” Fisher said at Monday’s County Commission meeting. “What they prefer to see, and we hear them, is a table that lays all those measurements out, and we’ll gladly look at something like that.”
Fisher noted the tight turn-around for county staff to procure the more than 500 different documents auditors requested.
He also said that keeping the county’s website current on a real-time basis is something staff is striving to do, noting the recent hiring of Osceola County’s new communications director, Lisa Nason.
“We’re taking the audit information as constructive,” Fisher said. “We can always continue to strive to do better…and we’re going to fix those things that need improvement.”
Residents interested in learning more about the sales tax can contact the county and request a presentation by staff by calling 407-742-7623.