Several Maine municipalities and organizations are struggling to find accounting firms to conduct annual audits required by state law, thanks to a worsening shortage of certified public accountants, according to industry sources.

“They’ve spread the word out of desperation,” Trish Brigham, executive director of the Maine Society of Certified Public Accountants, said of the growing number of towns struggling to find help with their audits. “‘Do you know anybody; do you know anybody?’ There just aren’t enough people with the accounting credentials and skills to service the demand.”

Public accountants perform a broad range of tasks, including tax preparation, business advisory services and data analytics, according to Brigham. While the need for CPAs has recently increased due to policies that grew out of the pandemic, staffing shortages have limited availability.

“I used to have my short list of, ‘I know he’s taking new clients; I know she’s taking new clients,’” Brigham said. “Now even those people are not accepting new clients. If you don’t have a relationship with a CPA and you need a CPA, it’s tough to find one in Maine.”

Recent changes to the tax code and policies that grew out of the pandemic, including stimulus checks for individuals and Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses, are partly responsible for stressing the network of public accountants in Maine, according to Nick DeBlois, a tax manager at One River CPAs in Bath.

“There’s just more touches on every (tax) return,” DeBlois said. “Every phone call is probably an extra 15 or 20 minutes with each client if they didn’t provide us the information on the front end. Do that times 3,000 and there’s a lot of extra time spent.”


As a result, firms have had to limit new clients or even cut existing ones. Fewer and fewer firms are performing audits, which are becoming more specialized, according to DeBlois, forcing organizations and municipalities to play a high-stakes game of musical chairs.

Southern Maine has largely avoided the pitfalls of the CPA shortage, according to Brunswick Finance Director Julia Henze. Though Brunswick’s firm has had to drop some clients recently, it will continue to conduct Brunswick’s audit.

“We haven’t felt the pain here in Brunswick,” Henze said. “I do know from the finance directors listserv that northern Maine particularly is having real problems finding auditing firms up there.”

She cited the tiny Washington County town of Talmadge, which recently reached out to other municipalities for help finding someone to audit the town. While firms have previously been willing to send CPAs to clients in rural Maine, staffing shortages have made that more difficult.

Pandemic trends have heightened the problem nationwide, but Maine has struggled for years to train enough public accountants, according to Brigham, who said the number of Mainers sitting for the CPA exam has declined each year since 2016.

Several factors have contributed to this trend, including improving job prospects in corporate accounting and other business fields, said Henri Akono, an associate professor of accounting at Maine Business School.


“In prior days, everybody would go into public accounting,” Akono said. “It was a no-brainer. In today’s world, people don’t operate this way.”

The field has struggled to attract new blood partly because of its reputation for demanding long hours during the “busy season” each spring, he said. To bring a new generation into the public accounting fold, Maine Business School is reworking its curriculum and speaking to firms about ways to incentivize students to start on the career path.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants hope their “CPA Evolution” initiative, which will require students to specialize in one aspect of the increasingly technical public accounting field, will help better prepare the next generation.

“Newly licensed CPAs need deeper skill sets, more competencies and greater knowledge of emerging technologies,” AICPA spokesperson Allison Carter Fanney said in a statement. “The enhanced focus on technology in the new model is designed to help the profession provide opportunities that students crave.”

While stereotypes about long hours have proven tough to shake, the public accounting field offers stability, a diverse range of career options and a good salary to prospective public accountants, according to Brigham.

“I don’t know any unemployed CPAs,” she said. “Every business needs some sort of accounting.”

Until Maine succeeds in recruiting more public accountants, municipalities and organizations may continue to struggle to complete their state-required audits.

The Maine Auditor’s Office could not be reached for comment on the immediate consequences of a town failing to produce an audit. However, the long-term risks for community members include errors, corruption, and overreach, according to Akono.

“It’s accountability at the government level,” Akono said. “It’s accountability at the university level. It’s accountability at the business level. You want somebody who is independent but well-skilled to be able to review what the person in charge has done and give you an independent opinion. How towns are using resources may not matter in the short-term to the little people, but in the long term, it will.”

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