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5-25-07

 
   

County needs special audit — again

 
 

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

For the second time in less than a year, an independent auditor is being hired by Platte County to help officials sort out a scrambled bookkeeping situation.

Last summer the problem centered on discrepancies in the park sales tax accounts. This year the problem area has expanded to include not only more questions about the park tax but also road sales tax revenue.

At a meeting on Thursday, the county commission is expected to approve a contract with Mike Groszek with Troutt, Beeman and Co. to examine the two sales tax funds "in order to determine the proper cash balances of the county general ledger funds as of April 30, 2007.”

Cost of the special audit--which will be done in addition to Groszek's annual independent audit of the county books performed at a budgeted cost of $60,000--will be an anticipated $7,500 for up to 80 hours worth of work. Groszek is expected to spend approximately 40 hours on each fund.

If the special audit takes longer than anticipated, county officials acknowledged the fee could grow even larger than $7,500.

Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, expressed disappointment in the county needing another special independent audit.

"It makes people think that various offices are not doing their jobs in the county and I think we ought to be better than that," Knight said Tuesday.

"There may be all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line is these gentlemen (department heads for parks and public works) and taxpayers need to know how much money is available, and we must feel comfortable that those numbers are correct.”

Knight sounded frustrated by the situation.

"I find it unreasonable that the auditor, the treasurer and the outside financial advisor can't come up with the same numbers," she remarked.

Dana Babcock, director of administration, said the special audit actually began on May 3 when spreadsheets detailing financial information on the park tax and road tax were supplied to Groszek by county parks director Brian Nowotny and public works director Greg Sager.

As exclusively reported in The Landmark last week, Sager had expressed the desire for the county auditor to verify actual road tax revenue to date and actual road tax account balances. Spreadsheet information provided by Sager, working from numbers provided to him by the county's road tax financial advisor Greg Bricker of George K. Baum, raised the possibility of a discrepancy.

Bricker has told Sager he acquires numbers from the office of treasurer Bonnie Brown. Sager's information indicated the road tax sales balance should be a little over $4 million. The treasurer's office reported to The Landmark that the balance for fund 440, the main road sales tax cash account, to be around $1.6 million.

County auditor Siobhann Williams last week urged patience, indicating she believed the spreadsheet at which Sager is referring to doesn't take into account two other funds that the road sales tax monies get dumped into. Those two accounts, Williams said, are the road sales tax debt fund--which services the debt on the general obligation bonds borrowed against future road sales tax receipts--and the road sales tax fund.

But Knight says Williams had indicated to county commissioners that "she really didn't have time" to study the park and road tax concerns.

"We know she's busy and frankly she told us she really didn't have time to do those extra audits. We didn't know when 'later' was," Knight said.

Sager provided to The Landmark a copy of an email he says he sent to Williams on Jan. 3 of this year asking for clarification of road tax fund questions. Williams says she never received that email and doesn't remember Sager bringing the issue to her attention until April 6. About 10 days later, she sent an email to Sager citing what she said was questionable data "in order to let (Sager) know that considerable work would need to be done in order to resolve the issue.”

Williams has said she told other county officials it would be at least July before she could devote time to tracking the problem, due to staffing limitations and the fact her office is working on the annual county financial statement. Knight says Williams never nailed down July or any other timeframe to do the study.

Williams told The Landmark last week she would try to reconcile the differences between the county's official ledger and what Sager shows on his spreadsheet as soon as she can. This week, she was more specific with The Landmark, saying she could start that process in July, but said the county commission did not want to wait that long.

"There is more urgency on their part and they have approached the outside auditor to do this," Williams said Monday.

Knight said the urgency comes from several factors, including that in July and August county departments will be working on budget requests for the next fiscal year and "it's hard to do that when you don't know how much money you have.”

Williams said the road tax--which was passed in 2003-- and the park tax passed in 2000 both need to be reconciled to their inception. Williams, who used the fact the county needed a special outside audit last year as a campaign tool against her opponent who worked under the previous auditor, said hiring the outside probe "is not what I would prefer but I'm not going to object to the outside auditor coming in.”

"I have mixed feelings about it. We're talking about a time period that I wasn't even here. I'm to the point we have literally spent considerable time correcting so much crap. We have had to go back five years to fix stuff. It's much worse than I could have ever imagined," she said.

Williams was elected last November to the auditor's post previously held by Sandra Thomas. Ruby Maline, Thomas' assistant, narrowly lost the election to Williams.

Williams says she needs more "professional" staff in her office and less clerical help.

The auditor's staff consists of herself, one professional person and one part-time clerical person. The part-time clerical position "needs to be a full time professional" position, she said.

"I had no idea there were going to be issues going back five to seven years," she said.

Williams said she will do a study that will include looking at past revenue projections for the road sales tax.

Sager and other county officials say projections are not what is at the heart of the matter.

"I want to know what my current balance is. The issue isn't projections," Sager said.

Knight agreed.

"We're not talking about projections, we're talking about real dollars. We need to know how much money we have in the bank," the presiding commissioner stated.

Knight, Sager and Babcock all said the real urgency comes in the fact it is construction season and this is the time of year projects are scheduled and completed using park tax and road tax money.

"Department heads can't make informed decisions and recommendations if they don't know what their accurate fund balances are," Babcock said.

Williams said her reasoning for wanting to look at projections is that "those numbers have to be forecasted and compared to the debt service requirement. Before any money is spent, we better make sure we can pay back those bonds that have been issued against the money we haven't collected yet.”

Knight said she hates to spend the extra money on audits, but feels it is necessary at this time in order to be a good steward of public money.

"Taxpayers need to feel certain that we do know where tax dollars are and are taking very good care of their money that we are given to spend on roads and parks," she remarked.