The Greene County Commission in southwest Missouri has voted unanimously today to ask the state auditor to do a county audit. Only this time, it won’t be free.

State auditor could investigate southwest Missouri sales tax hike campaign after all

Commissioner Lincoln Hough says other counties like Greene County have paid the state around $150,000 for a full audit and a spokeswoman says leaders have set aside that amount in the county budget.

Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, offered to do a free audit for the county in 2017 after getting nearly two dozen complaints over the way the county campaigned for a half-cent sales tax increase.

According to Galloway’s office, the whistle-blowers claimed county employees may have done work for the “Invest in Greene County Political Action Committee”. The tasks could have included accepting donations to the PAC in county offices during work hours.

State law prohibits the contribution or expenditure of public funds to support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office.

At the time, then presiding commissioner Bob Cirtin and commissioner Harold Bengsch rejected the idea. Hough, who has been elected to the Missouri Senate, was in favor of the audit.

The county decided to hire a private law firm that cost the county more than $300,000. Commissioners instead chose to have the Missouri Ethics Commission investigate the matter. That cost the county more than $300,000.

The Commission found Greene County did not misuse taxpayer money but was required to pay a $100 fee for improperly disclosing information.

In today’s vote, new presiding commissioner Bob Dixon, Hough, and commissioner Harold Bengsch all voted yes on the audit request.

The sales tax hike ended up passing by a 59.74% margin. The Greene County website said it would raise an estimated $26 million per year. The funding is being used to help the county expand its jail, implement services to reduce jail population growth, reinstate Animal Control, meet environmental funding needs and provide financial assistance to municipalities.

By Jason Rima of Missourinet affiliate KSGF in Springfield