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Annual Financial Reporting

This page provides a basic overview of annual financial reporting requirements for local governments in Washington State, including GAAP vs. cash basis reporting as well as checklists to help entities prepare and review their annual financial reports (with an emphasis on cash basis entities).



Overview

RCW 43.09.230 requires every local government in Washington State – including cities, towns, counties, and special purpose districts – to file an annual financial report with the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) within 150 days of the close of each fiscal year.

Most local governments (with a few exceptions such as school districts) have a fiscal year that ends on December 31, which means the deadline for those jurisdictions to file the annual financial report is May 30 of the following year, or May 29 in a leap year due to the extra day in February.

RCW 43.09.245 provides SAO the authority to examine (audit) the financial affairs of local governments, and RCW 43.09.260 requires all local governments be audited at least once every three years. Many of these audits include the review of annual financial reports for accuracy and compliance with requirements prescribed by the SAO in its BARS (Budgeting, Accounting, and Reporting Systems) manuals.


Types of Financial Reports (Cash vs. GAAP)

RCW 43.09.200 provides statutory authority to the SAO to prescribe a system of accounting and reporting for all local government entities. It also states that the requirements shall be uniform for every public institution, office and public account of the same class.

While all local governments must file an annual financial report with SAO, the SAO has developed two different approaches for accounting and reporting: Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and "cash basis," also referred to as "other comprehensive basis of accounting" (OCBOA).

Below is a brief summary of the two types of financial reporting; SAO also provides a comparison within both BARS Manuals (see GAAP vs. Cash Basis Reporting).

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)

GAAP is an established set of rules and regulations that provide uniformity and consistency for the accounting of businesses and governments throughout the United States.

Governmental entities are also guided by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), an independent private sector organization which establishes accounting and financial standards for the state and local governments that follow GAAP. These standards are recognized as authoritative by state and local governments.

The GAAP method of accounting and reporting is an accrual or modified accrual basis of accounting where costs and expenses are recognized when they occur rather than when actual cash is exchanged. State and local governments must follow GAAP/GASB accounting unless authorized to report using an "other comprehensive basis of accounting."

Approximately 20% of local governments in Washington State report on a GAAP basis.

Some GAAP reporting entities elect to participate in the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting (COA) Program. GFOA established this program to encourage and assist both state and local governments to go beyond the minimum requirements of GAAP/GASB reporting and to prepare what is commonly referred to as a "comprehensive annual financial report."

Those jurisdictions participating in the COA program must submit their financial reports to SAO to satisfy the reporting requirements of RCW 43.09.230, in addition to submitting a copy to GFOA for review and consideration for the Certificate of Achievement.

For more information on the GFOA comprehensive annual financial report, including potential benefits and submittal requirements, see the SAO GAAP BARS Manual Section 4.9, GFOA Financial Reporting Recognition Programs.

Cash Basis

"Cash basis," also referred to as "other comprehensive basis of accounting" (OCBOA), is an alternate method of accounting and reporting that is prescribed by the SAO through its authority in RCW 43.09.200. Cash basis accounting and reporting is a more simplified system than accrual, as it only recognizes income and expenses when actually received or disbursed.

Net income under a cash basis system will always equal cash on hand plus funds held in banking institutions (or with the county treasurer) in the name of the entity. This method of reporting is non-conforming to GAAP, and local governments are required to disclose the use of cash accounting and reporting in the notes to financial statements when preparing the annual financial report.

Approximately 80% of local governments in Washington State report on a cash basis. 


Report Preparation Checklists and Workbooks

The tools below are intended to help with the preparation and reconciliation of the cash basis financial statements, notes, and supplemental schedules of the annual financial report. Also see SAO's BARS Reporting Templates.


Internal Controls Checklists

Statement of Auditing Standards (SAS) 115 requires that the auditor (SAO) communicate deficiencies in the internal controls over financial reporting that it may discover during an audit.

"Internal controls" refers to a process designed to provide reasonable assurance about the reliability of the financial reporting document. The design and formality of an entity's internal controls will vary depending on the entity's size and type as well as its management philosophy.

The checklists below are intended to assist cash basis entities with this required element of the annual financial reporting process and will help demonstrate to the auditor that your entity has taken appropriate steps to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the annual financial report.

Practice Tip: These checklists are intended to be used by someone other than the preparer of the annual financial report, to assist in determining the accuracy of the financial information that has been prepared and to demonstrate the internal control system used by management.


Recent Annual Report Changes

  • Recent blog posts about financial reporting – Articles written by MRSC staff and contributors about financial reporting, including annual changes. Articles are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first.

Last Modified: April 02, 2021