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Salmon tries to 'shine light' on Vt. finances

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Posted on October 14, 2010 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — Calculators, pens, pencils and computers are common tools of the trade among auditors.

Vermont State Auditor Thomas Salmon said he uses an extra, figurative tool in his arsenal: A spotlight.

“You’ve got to have a guy like me that wants to facilitate turning the lights on,” Salmon, who is running for re-election this Nov. 2, said during a Monday interview at the Addison Independent.

The 47-year-old Republican from St. Johnsbury faces opposition from Doug Hoffer of Burlington, who defeated former state Auditor Ed Flanagan in a Democratic primary contest in August.

Salmon is asking voters to return him for a third consecutive two-year term making sure the state’s ledgers are balanced and that it gets the most bag for its buck for the services it buys.
The auditor’s office has three primary responsibilities:

• Performance audits of various state government functions to ensure services are being provided as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

• The state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The bulk of this work is contracted out to the accounting firm KPMG.

• The Federal Single Audit, through which the more than $1.2 billion in federal money Vermont receives annually is properly accounted. The bulk of this work is also contracted out to an independent Certified Public Accountant firm.

“The main role of the auditor … is to be a catalyst for good government,” Salmon said, “and, through professional audits, promote efficiency, effectiveness and financial training to cities, towns and school districts. Our job is to principally watch the payments and watch the spending and to ensure the financial statements that roll into the general ledger are presented fairly.”

Aside from state government-related audits, Salmon has extended his office’s expertise to other public-service sectors — including sheriff’s departments and schools.

Salmon said he when he took office in 2007, there had been a theft from the Windham County Sheriff’s Department. And he noted the state’s 14 sheriff’s departments were on different financial management systems. Representatives of Salmon’s office worked with the sheriff’s departments to get them on the same management system, while updating their collective accounting manual.

“That took us 18 months ... and we did that with cooperation with their bookkeepers, accountants and office workers,” said Salmon, whose office includes 12 employees, five of whom are CPAs.

The auditor’s office also undertook a review of telecommunications tower leases entered into by the state’s college system.

“We evaluated their bidding process with that, and because of our work, they renegotiated and got $500,000 renegotiated into that lease,” Salmon said.

Using special software, the office looked at $8 billion in state and federal payments in Vermont from January of 2007 to December of 2008. The idea was to detect any improper or duplicate payments. Salmon was pleased to report that audit revealed a combined total of only $267,000 in bogus payments out of the total $8 billion.

“That’s a huge pat on the back of our Vermont employees,” said Salmon, who has placed an emphasis on training state workers to be more vigilant with budget numbers.

“What my fingers are hopefully on in this job is really shifting us to a sustainable structure of a government that can measure itself,” Salmon said. “That not only applies to state government, it goes to schools as well as our work with sheriffs.”

The auditor’s office has reached out to school districts, to offer accounting advice — such as how districts could save money through such methods as joint purchasing of goods and services. More than 50 of the state’s superintendents have agreed to participate in the resulting auditor’s school resource study.

Salmon noted his office is working with the Addison Central Supervisory Union on a project to shed light on the potential cost benefits of a consolidated school governance structure. The ACSU has already formed a committee to look at the potential of consolidating school governance and resources.

And while farm fields are not a familiar venue for CPAs, Salmon and his colleagues — in concert with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture — are participating in the effort to create better economic conditions for farmers. To that end, they have assembled a group of Vermont-based entrepreneurs who are brainstorming ways to put more money in farmers’ pockets. The group ultimately present it findings to Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee on strategies to preserve the state’s working landscape and increase agricultural profits.

“If you can create a successful business plan, the money will come,” Salmon said.

Salmon was born and raised in Bellows Falls. He earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Boston College and was trained in auditing at Coopers and Lybrand (now Price Waterhouse Coopers) in Hartford, Conn., and Los Angeles. He has been a CPA since 1993.
He serves in the U.S. Navy Reserves as a member of the Seabees and returned from active duty in Iraq in March of 2009. Salmon and his wife Leslie have four children.

State auditor is an elected position that usually doesn’t generate a lot of headlines, though Salmon has generated his share in recent years. Salmon, the son of former Democratic governor Thomas Salmon, made quite a splash when he announced in September of 2009 he was changing his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. On Nov. 15, 2009, a Vermont State Police trooper cited Salmon for driving under the influence, a charge to which he would plead guilty.

But Salmon is now squarely focused on his campaign and hopes for at least two more years of effective numbers crunching.

“We are not interested in ‘gotcha’ headlines,” Salmon said. “It is a lot better to do things with people than to do things to people.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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