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County loses finance director

Archuleta County Finance Director Don Warn tendered his resignation to the organization’s top brass Monday, prompting the county administrator and the commissioners to take preliminary steps toward seeking Warn’s replacement.

Warn’s last day is Sept. 18, and he will return to Golden, Colo., to take a position as the city’s assistant finance director — a post he held before joining Archuleta County in November 2007.

Warn said he took the position in order to live closer to immediate and extended family already in the Golden area.

“It’s a quality of life decision,” Warn said.

When Warn arrived in Archuleta County in the late fall of 2007, he stepped into extraordinary financial circumstances. During the spring of that year, it was revealed that the ledgers were plagued by negative fund balances, many accounts had gone unreconciled for months if not years, the county had been months without a finance director and a general accountant with basic accounting skills was tasked with leading the finance department. Meanwhile, county finance staff and others scrambled to produce comprehensible documentation needed to undertake and complete the 2006 government audit, a forensic audit and a balanced budget for 2008 by the statutory deadline.

By December 2007 and just a month after Warn’s arrival, former Archuleta County Administrator Bob Campbell resigned; and in the middle of the financial and managerial maelstrom, Warn dug in and began the task of getting the county’s books back in order.

In January 2008, the Board of County Commissioners hired Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte, which lightened some of Warn’s load, however, the finance director was still tasked with seeking remedies to the negative fund balance problem and other financial maladies that had plagued the county for years.

In May 2008, Warn tackled the negative fund balance issue by proposing an interfund loan program, which the commissioners ultimately approved. Although unpalatable to many — citizens, staff and elected officials alike —the plan provided a means to pay back funds driven into the negative with dollars borrowed from the Road Capital Improvement Fund. The plan also called for a 20-year payback commitment.

Soon thereafter, Warn worked to institute a series of policies and procedures — including a procurement policy, cell phone policy a cash handling policy and other internal controls, all crafted to ensure the county effectively managed and tracked its finances.

Last fall, with Warn’s mojo working at full tilt, he exercised a bit of accounting alchemy and nabbed an additional $500,000 for Archuleta School District 50 Joint through the Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs. With Warn’s accounting process now institutionalized, the school district can expect a few hundred thousand each year hereafter until 2012.

During late winter and early spring of 2009, Warn crunched the numbers and provided the commissioners with the data and a strategy to begin banking reserves. Ultimately, the commissioners adopted a reserve policy in March 2009 that will put $300,000 each year into reserves until 2012. After 2012, the policy pledges that 10 to 15 percent of general fund expenditures will be banked as reserves.

Fast forward to August 2009, and the record shows the county completed its 2008 government audit well before the extension deadline of Sept. 30. The event marks a major milestone after four years of missed audit deadlines and state penalties in the form of property tax freezes.

In fact, the Wall, Smith, Bateman & Associates 2008 audit report delivered last week proved to be a history lesson for Warn, Schulte and the commissioners. For example, the auditors noted that Warn had already fixed many of the issues identified in the audit, or had developed a game plan for addressing lingering issues — such as accounting glitches in the Department of Human Services — in the future.

At a meeting with Archuleta County commissioners Clifford Lucero and John Ranson Tuesday, Lucero and Ranson lamented Warn’s departure, but maintained focus on the task of hiring his replacement.

To that end, county staff and the commissioners will conduct a national search for Warn’s replacement, using resources in-house instead of hiring a “head-hunter” firm, thus saving about $20,000.

Schulte said job advertising materials should be complete by the end of the week, with a “ball park” hiring target date of mid-November.

Commenting on his tenure with Archuleta County, Warn said many of the county’s financial achievements could not have been accomplished without the support of an excellent staff.

“As challenging and as much work that it has been, it has been fun,” Warn said.

Warn will likely assist in the interviewing of the county’s new financial director, along with members of the Citizen’s Financial Advisory Task Force.

james@pagosasun.com