Six sets of problems being identified in an audit of a state agency certainly isn't good news but the fact that those problems were discovered in the state Department of Revenue should cause a bit of pause in everyone.

These six problems were discussed earlier this week during the state legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee. They were discovered by the Department of Legislative Audit. Bob Christianson, a state government audit manager, delivered a report on the audit to GOAC on Monday.

Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach did not, it appears, disagree with the audit's findings and has submitted correction plans for each of the six problem areas identified. Still, the members of GOAC have asked to meet with Gerlach on Dec. 18 to hear from him directly about what happened.

Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, who chairs GOAC, went so far as to say "My concern is that we never had a finding like this before."

She is right to be concerned. The problems noted in the audit included money owed to municipal governments for sales taxes; inadequate handling of taxpayer checks in the Pierre center; lack of a form for motor-fuel tax waivers; evidence missing for revenue corrections; inadequate controls for reconciliation and calculation of motor vehicle fees; and inadequate controls on bank-franchise taxes.

What caused these problems in the first place? GOAC member Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, seems to think that the revenue department's struggle to fill a position that was open for six months may have had something to do with it. She tied the struggle to hire someone to low pay.

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Wismer's argument has more than a little merit. Anyone in Pierre who has tried to fill an open position, especially one that requires some sort of specialization such as, say, accounting, will tell you just how hard it can be to get someone to consider moving to central South Dakota. The task is made more difficult if you can't pay them a reasonable salary for their chosen profession.

It is becoming more difficult for state government to compete for talent. The problem probably isn't confined to the Department of Revenue, either. A search of job openings on the South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources website shows one position with the Department of Labor and Regulation in Pierre as having been open since Jan. 19, 2017. It's listed as open until filled. A total of 14 of the 37 state job listings for Pierre have been open for more than a month and are listed as open until filled.

Does this mean the state ought to look at paying its employees a little more? Maybe. We're a small state so lower pay is to be expected, but if the folks we count on to collect our tax dollars are having trouble keeping up with the job, it might be time to look seriously at how we compensate our employees. They work for us, after all and part of being a good boss includes paying your employees a fair wage.

— Pierre Capital Journal

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