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280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

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County Hall Corner: Humble Excellence

Does anyone ever remember reading a headline that stated, “Airliner Lands Safely at Williamsport Regional Airport”? Of course not. That is not news because that is what is supposed to happen. News is when something bad happens, or unusual, or threatening. This is where the newspaper adage comes from, “When it bleeds, it leads.” It

Does anyone ever remember reading a headline that stated, “Airliner Lands Safely at Williamsport Regional Airport”? Of course not. That is not news because that is what is supposed to happen. News is when something bad happens, or unusual, or threatening. This is where the newspaper adage comes from, “When it bleeds, it leads.”

It is no surprise that the sensational gets all the attention and those who work tirelessly to make sure things do not go wrong hardly get noticed at all. This is also why a somewhat routine event at the March 7th County Commissioners Meeting deserves at least a 15-second claim to fame. It was listed on the agenda simply as Item 5.1 “Present CAFR award.” What that innocuous line item represents is decades of humble excellence.

CAFR stands for Certificate of Achievement in Financial Reporting, which is awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), a major professional association servicing the needs of more than 19,000 appointed and elected officials throughout the United States. It is the only national awards program in governmental budgeting. More than 1,600 municipal governments participate in the Budget Awards Program, and the criteria for recognition is very steep. The entity’s budget document must clearly and simply present a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide, and a communications device. There are fourteen different mandatory criteria within each of these categories that must be met to be awarded the Certificate of Achievement in Financial Reporting by GFOA.

Beth Johnston, Fiscal Director for Lycoming County, and her six-person staff do not have to jump through all these hoops. The county is legally required to present a budget, but to go the “second mile” (and third, and maybe the twenty-third mile) which the GFOA award reflects, demonstrates the commitment of the county commissioners and Beth’s staff to meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting practices.

Thus achieving this award is a big deal, and it does not come easily. But what sets Lycoming County apart is their absolutely amazing history of excellence in this area. When the county commissioners invited Beth Johnston and her staff to come forward to be recognized, Chairman Jack McKernan asked Beth how many years the Fiscal Services Office has been so recognized. She answered simply, “This is our twenty-seventh year in a row, commissioner.”

Twenty-seven years in a row! If a sports team had a winning record like that, it would be plastered all over the front pages. That was so long ago, George H. W. Bush (the first one, remember?) was President of the United States. New England had only played in one Super Bowl, and they got blown out by the Chicago Bears. Twenty-seven years is an absolutely amazing winning streak.

Lycoming County has set this high bar as their standard and has maintained it as Fiscal Directors have come and gone. The award says simply, “Government Finance Officers Association / Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting presented to County of Lycoming Pennsylvania/ for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2017, / signed by Jeffrey R. Esser, Executive Director/CEO.

Notice — it is only good for one year. That’s it — one and done. 2018 is a brand new year for Beth Johnston and her staff, so in a sense, they are starting from scratch. Yes, they had a winning record last year, but a new season has begun. As Commissioner Mirabito pointed out during the presentation ceremony, it is exactly this dedication to excellence that has kept the county from the type of financial “disasters” that have befallen over municipalities and counties throughout the state.

So, let’s give a salute to the Department of Fiscal Services for landing the plane without incident. Though crash and burn events are headliners, they also mean pain and destruction. Let’s be thankful for decades of quiet and humble excellence.

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