Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–As part of his annual tour of each of Iowa’s county seats, State Auditor Rob Sand visited Muscatine on the afternoon of July 8. In 2019, Sand held his tour virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking in front of the Muscatine County Court House, Sand met with about 14 attendees talking about what the auditor’s office has done in the past year and answering questions. As he explained it, “it really gives people a look at what we’re about and getting lots of tips.”

Sand started by explaining how the auditor’s office serves as a watchdog to make sure that government at all levels uses taxpayer money correctly, both in the negative sense of calling out entities that spend it incorrectly and in the positive sense of highlighting those who spend money wisely.

He then provided examples of each sort of work. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld Sand’s request to get the names of investors and additional information about a deal by the University of Iowa to hire a private French company to operate their utilities for the next 50 years, financed by a variety of investors. Sand requested the information to check that the University had gotten a fair deal, as taxpayers will have to cover the cost if it fell through. Sand felt this court ruling served as a reminder to all parts of Iowa government that their finances can and will receive regular audits to make sure they do not misuse taxpayer money or put Iowa residents at undue risk.

More positively, Sand discussed the successes he has seen with the Public Innovations and Efficiencies or PIE Program. A program designed to help reduce the cost of city government in smaller towns, freeing up money for other community needs, PIE operates in several cities in Muscatine County, including Conesville, Fruitland, and Wilton. Participants work through a checklist of ways to save money, such as strategies to reduce energy use in public buildings, and share the additional ideas they have with other PIE members. Cities also share the progress they make with the auditor’s office to allow them to update recommendations and recognize cities that make major savings because of their efforts.

Along with looking at some of the roles of the auditor’s office, Sand offered his thoughts on the condition of the state’s budget. Though he appreciated the fact that the state has a large budget surplus, he considered using part of this excess to invest in businesses that closed during the pandemic and to allow the state to continue paying backfill on property taxes a better investment for taxpayers in the long run. He also expressed his distaste for having too many members of any one party in power at the same time.

Sand spent the remainder of his visit answering questions from local residents and officials. When asked if he planned to run for governor next year, as some people have speculated, he emphasized that he had not made a decision and had no timeline for doing so.

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