SHERIDAN — A bill backed by a local legislator would lift auditing regulations on special fire, water and sewer districts in an effort to alleviate regulatory financial burdens on the smaller districts in the state. Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, is co-sponsoring the bill, which would exempt the specified districts from a state statute that requires the financial reports they submit to verified by a certified public accountant, who the districts would have to hire.
“That can be a quarter or a fifth of their budget just to be compliant,” Western said. “And they could be spending that on upgrading their trucks or new equipment.”
Locally, the bill would ease the financial regulations on volunteer fire districts in Story, Big Horn, Goose Valley, Dayton and Ranchester, but Western said the bill would benefit districts in small communities throughout the state.
“There have probably been a half-dozen legislators who have reached out to me expressing interested in the bill because they have had either water or sewer districts, or they’ve had fire protection districts reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, this is kind of a pain for us,’” Western said. “…It helps get regulation out of the way for some of these small communities, so they can spend their money in a bigger, more impactful way.”
The bill has sponsors in both chambers of the state Legislature, with backing from Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton; Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody; Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne; Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle; and Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull in addition to Western.
Sheridan County Fire Warden Chris Thomas estimated a CPA-certified audit would cost volunteer fire districts between $8,000 and $15,000, depending on the financial activity in the district, which would take a chunk out of many of those districts’ budgets.
“Some of these districts don’t have that big a budget,” Thomas said. “…I’ve seen some years some of these districts only brought in $30,000.”
Further, Thomas said there only two CPA-certified organizations in northern Wyoming, which limits the availability of those services at the end of the fiscal year and drives up their cost.
Thomas said the CPA-audit requirement went into effect in fiscal year 2019, which means districts have not had to pay to have their finances audited yet; the requirement would come into effect in July 2019, the end of the fiscal year.
Other special districts, like conservation districts, have already been exempted from the audit requirement.
“The fire districts, the water districts [and the sewer districts], somehow they got missed in that last round where they exempted districts,” Thomas said.
Districts would still have to perform an internal audit and make their finances available if the bill passes, it would only remove the requirement that they hire a CPA firm to audit those finances.