Fiscal Caution/Watch/Emergency Law Fact Sheet
The original municipal fiscal emergency law was enacted in 1979 as a response to a financial crisis in the city of Cleveland. Since that time, financial planning and supervision commissions have aided over 50 Ohio local governments declared in fiscal emergency.
In 1996 fiscal emergency protection was extended to counties and townships through a legislative change (House Bill 462). HB 462 modified the fiscal emergency statute to create the "fiscal watch" status to provide early warning to faltering entities whose finances are approaching emergency status.
More recently in 2011, House Bill 153 further modified the fiscal emergency statute to create the “fiscal caution” provision to identify fiscal practices and budgetary conditions that, if not corrected, could result in a declaration of fiscal watch or fiscal emergency. The Auditor of State has established the following “fiscal practices and budgetary conditions” as guidelines to place an entity in Fiscal Caution:
Declaring Fiscal Caution
Any one factor is needed for the Auditor of State to declare Fiscal Caution:
- When the Auditor of State declares that a municipal corporation, county, or township financial records are unauditable, and has issued a letter to the municipal corporation, county, or township indicating the timeframe under which those records must be restored to an auditable condition, and the municipal corporation, county, or township has failed to do so within the timeframe specified in the letter.
- When the Auditor of State identifies significant deficiencies or material weaknesses over accounting and financial reporting functions, direct and material noncompliance with applicable laws and regulations, or management letter comments which, in the opinion of the Auditor of State, the aggregate effect of such reported issues has a significant effect on the financial condition of the municipal corporation, county, or township.
- When a deficit fund balance exists at year-end in the General fund that is greater than two percent of that fund’s revenue for that year, and/or when a deficit fund balance exists at year-end in any other fund that is greater than two percent of that fund’s revenue for that year, and there are not sufficient resources in the General fund that may be transferred to eliminate the deficit or in any other fund that may lawfully transfer resources to eliminate the deficit.
- When a low year-end carryover balance exists in the General fund such that the balance is equal to or less than an amount representing one month of expenditures (based on one-twelfth of prior year expenditures), and/or when a low year-end carryover balance exists in any other fund such that the balance is equal to or less than an amount representing one month of expenditures (based on one-twelfth of prior year expenditures), and there are not sufficient resources in the General fund that may be transferred or in any other fund that may lawfully transfer resources to subsidize the fund.
- When a municipal corporation, county, or township has not reconciled its accounting journals and ledgers with the treasury/bank for more than three months and is unable to reconcile the records within one month of written notification by the Auditor of State.
Fiscal Caution Process and Termination
Once the Auditor of State has determined that the entity shall be placed in fiscal caution, the governing body will receive written notice of the declaration. This notification shall also request a written proposal from the entity for discontinuing or correcting the fiscal practice or budgetary conditions that prompted the declaration. The entity will be given 60 days to provide a written proposal to the Auditor of State.
The Auditor of State may visit and inspect the entity while under fiscal caution and may provide technical assistance to the entity in implementing proposals to eliminate the conditions that prompted the fiscal caution declaration. Costs for this support would be borne by the State.
If the entity has not made reasonable proposals or otherwise taken action to discontinue or correct the practices or conditions that led to the declaration of fiscal caution as set forth in the proposed plan, the Auditor of State may determine that the entity should be in a state of fiscal watch or fiscal emergency.
An entity cannot be released from fiscal caution until the Auditor of State has determined that the corrective actions have been or are being implemented and that the fiscal caution conditions no longer exist.
Declaring Fiscal Watch
Any one factor is needed for the Auditor of State to declare fiscal watch:
- The existence of either of the following:
- All accounts that were due and payable from the General Fund for more than 30 days, less the year-end balance of the General Fund, exceeded one-twelfth of the General Fund budget for the year.
- All accounts that were due and payable from all funds for more than 30 days, less the year-end balance in these funds, exceeds one-twelfth of the available revenue for the preceding fiscal year from these funds.
- Total deficit funds, less the total of any balances in the General Fund and in any special fund that may be transferred to meet such deficits, exceeds one-twelfth of the total General Fund budget for that year and the receipts to those deficit funds during that year (other than transfers from the General Fund).
- Money and marketable investments, less outstanding checks, less total positive fund balances of general fund and special funds, exceeds one-twelfth of the total amount received during the preceding fiscal year.
- Based on an examination of a financial forecast approved by the legislative authority, the Auditor of State certifies that the General fund deficit at the end of the current fiscal year will exceed one-twelfth of the General fund revenue from the preceding fiscal year.
Fiscal Watch Process and Termination
To determine if an entity qualifies for fiscal watch or emergency, the Auditor of State would conduct an initial review of entity finances. This analysis would commence upon the written request of the entity or at the initiation of the Auditor of State. If an entity is under "fiscal watch" the Auditor of State may provide technical and support services to the entity. Costs for this support would be borne by the State.
Once the Auditor of State has issued a written declaration of the existence of fiscal watch to the governing body of the entity, the entity has 120 days to submit a financial recovery plan to the Auditor of State that identifies actions to be taken to eliminate all of the fiscal watch conditions. The plan is subject to review and approval by the Auditor of State. If a feasible financial recovery plan is not submitted within the time period prescribed, the Auditor of State shall declare that a fiscal emergency condition exists.
The fiscal watch shall be in effect until the Auditor of State determines that none of the fiscal watch conditions are any longer present and cancels the watch.
Declaring Fiscal Emergency
Any one factor is needed for the Auditor of State to declare fiscal emergency:
- The same first three conditions as fiscal watch, with the exception that the fraction is changed to one-sixth, with the added requirement that the condition must continue to exist at least four months after the end of the fiscal year.
- Failure, for lack of funds, to make all payroll to employees that continues beyond 30 days, or a period of agreed-upon extension that can not last more than 90 days from the original time for payment.
- Default of payment on any debt obligation for more than 30 days.
- An increase in the inside millage by the County Budget Commission that results in a reduction for any of the overlapping subdivisions or taxing districts.
A declaration of fiscal emergency can result at the time of review if any of the six conditions are met. Entities declared in fiscal emergency come under the oversight of a financial planning and supervision commission. The Auditor of State serves as the “financial supervisor” to the commission.
Members of the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission
- Treasurer of State (or office designee).
- Director of state office of Budget and Management (or office designee).
- For municipalities, the mayor and presiding officer of municipal legislative authority.
- For counties, the president of the board of county commissioners and the county auditor.
- For townships, a member of the board of township trustees and the county auditor.
- Three appointed members chosen out of five names provided to the Governor by the mayor and presiding officer of municipal legislative authority; or by the county board of commissioners or board of township trustees. These individuals must be residents of the declared government (by home or office address) with at least five years private-sector business/financial experience.
Note: For a Village or Township with a population of less than one thousand (1,000) as of the most recent census, the Auditor of State serves as the Financial Supervisor and has all the powers and responsibilities of a commission. (effective September 29, 2011)
Responsibilities of the Commission
- Approve a financial recovery plan containing actions to essentially eliminate fiscal emergency conditions, balance the budget, avoid future deficits and market long-term obligations. The plan must be submitted to the commission by the mayor, board of commissioners or board of trustees within 120 days of its first meeting. The commission can either accept or reject the plan, listing reasons if rejected. The above officials then have 30 days to resubmit a plan, and the process is repeated until a plan is accepted.
- The commission, has widespread authority to review all revenue and expenditure estimates to determine whether they result in a balanced budget; require the government by ordinance or resolution to establish monthly levels of expenditures and encumbrances consistent with the financial plan; to approve and monitor these levels; to approve the amount and purpose of any debt issues; to make and enter into all contracts and agreements necessary to the performance of its duties and to make recommendations for cost reductions or revenue increases to carry out the financial plan.
Termination of the Commission/ Release from Fiscal Emergency
- An effective financial accounting and reporting system is being implemented, with expected completion within two years.
- All fiscal emergency conditions have been or are in the process of being eliminated, and no new emergency conditions have occurred.
- The financial recovery plan objectives are being met.
- The entity has a five-year financial forecast that the Auditor of State determines is "nonadverse".