Legislature raises fees for county audits, sets up historic preservation funds

Legislation raising fees that counties pay for audits by the comptroller’s office and diverting new revenue from the state’s real estate transfer tax to historic preservation funds has won almost unanimous approval by the Legislature.

State law requires annual audits of county governments and In 89 of the state’s 95 counties, the comptroller does the auditing. Under current law, those counties pay a fee based on population — 30 cents per resident.

Under SB2654, the fee will be increase to 36 cents per resident starting next year with the comptroller granted authority to raise the cost another 3 cents per resident in each of the following years. The Republican sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent of Franklin, said the extra money is needed to cover increased costs — and if the future increases are not necessary, they won’t be implemented.

The Fiscal Review Committee estimated the cost to the counties would be about $230,000 next year. Six of the state’s most populous counties, including Knox, hired their own auditors and do not rely on the comptroller.

Another provision of the bill creates two new uses for money collected from the state’s real estate transfer tax —— purchase of Civil War sites and purchase of historic properties. The Fiscal Review staff estimates that the two funds will split about $1 million next year as a result of the bill’s enactment.

Currently, funds from the tax are earmarked for four other funds — one for wetlands acquisition, one for state park land acquisition, one for local park acquisition and the Agricultural Resources Conservation Fund. Under the bill, those accounts will be frozen at their current levels of annual funding and all growth money will go to the new funds.

The bill passed the Senate 31-1 and was approved 92-1 in the House. The no votes came from Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston.