Dunklin County addresses concerns in audit

KENNETT, MO (KAIT) – Various county agencies in Dunklin County responded to a recent audit by Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, which shows a number of concerns in county finances. According to the auditor's report released October 28, 2011, the Dunklin County Collector-Treasurer does not complete "annual settlements of property taxes promptly and accurately." Kathy Rasberry discussed the audit Wednesday with Region 8 News.

Rasberry declined to discuss the findings on camera; however, she talked about the report for an hour with Region 8 News. She said at the time of the audit, the county was at a stage of gathering all documents from former treasurers at the eight townships. Rasberry said the townships collected property taxes individually; however, the eight township collectors did not provide accurate accounts of the money collected.

Rasberry said previous records were not maintained in the way that would please the state auditor. She said since former township treasurers did not keep accurate documents, she was unable to verify the validity of their reports.

Rasberry provided a written response to the auditor before the report was released. In the report, she suggested she'll make an effort to complete annual settlements to the County Commission in a timely fashion, and work closely with other county entities.

According to the audit, Dunklin County collected roughly $33 million in a two year time span ending in February, 2011.

The Collector-Treasurer was not alone in the audit. It also found some shortfalls in the sheriff's office and County Commission.

"Once they (inmates) leave here, they have a board bill. We allow them to pay at least $50 a month and then we have some people that move out that don't pay," said Sheriff Bob Holder.

According to the findings of the audit, the sheriff's office "does not adequately pursue collection of delinquent court-ordered board bills." Board bills are prisoner housing costs inmates must pay when they are released from jail.

"They have asked us to make a better effort to try to collect our board bills and we're doing that. We've got individuals now that don't pay a board bill. We send the copy to the judge and let the judge then determine how he wants to address the situation," said Holder. "We send out a letter and tell the individual they haven't paid in a while, but it's kind of like other businesses. Lots of people don't have the money right now and we do have some outstanding debt on the books as far as the inmates are concerned."

According to the audit, Dunklin County is owed approximately $375,000 in housing costs, and some delinquent bills date as far back as nine years ago.

"We have brought them back in. We always try to give them the opportunity to pay it because if they're incarcerated again, they just add to the bill. We try to make it where they can pay the bill. We would rather have them paying as to incarcerate back here," said Holder. "If people move out of state, let's say he owes $100 on his board bill. And let's say he moves out to the state of Georgia or California. We're able to find out where he's at, the cost of issuing a warrant and going after that individual, by the time you count manpower and gasoline and things of that nature, it's not feasible for us to go get the subject and bring him back."

The auditor suggested in the report that Holder should try to obtain the court ordered costs to maximize revenues. As of March 31, 2011, no payments have been made on 334 cases, totaling more than $250,000.

"If they're not paying their bill and you incarcerate them, you incur additional costs. We have individuals, we set it up, we let them pay so much a month and we've got a number on the books that are paying by the month," said Holder.

Also included in the report is the issue of inmate commissary balances. According to the audit, the sheriff's office does not make a strong enough effort to review money in old commissary accounts. The report indicated 634 inmates had inactive accounts totally more than $5,000. There were also 712 active inmate accounts, which totaled more than $7,000. The audit suggested the sheriff's office return the money appropriately after the sheriff reviews the outstanding board bill costs.

"The guy that left here with a penny being owed to him, when he comes back in, he's got a penny credit on the books. We do have a lot of repeat business," said Holder.

Holder said many active accounts include repeat offenders. He said it would not be economically feasible to capture some former inmates with outstanding balances.

Also included in the report was the Dunklin County Prosecutor's Office regarding accounting controls and procedures. In the report, the prosecutor was found not to have "reconciled a list of liabilities to the bank account balance each month."

Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff told Region 8 News over the phone Wednesday the computer program purchased to gather information on debts and other liabilities was not writing checks like it was programmed to do. Sokoloff said he's waiting for the program to be fixed by the program's technician from Karpel. He said all unclaimed money will be sent back to the treasurer's office.

More findings involve the Presiding Commissioner of Dunklin County. The report indicated Presiding Commissioner Don Collins withdrew $50,000 to pay employees after the 2009 ice storm devastated the area. Collins told Region 8 News employees were given $500 because the banks were knocked offline the day their direct deposit was supposed to go in employee accounts. Collins said the county employs 100 people.

"We didn't do anything wrong, so we're glad to talk about it. The state is making a recommendation, which we can agree or disagree with and implement or not implement," said Collins.

The audit suggested Collins received permission to withdraw the money from associate commissioners, however, the money was not secured or disbursed properly and the transaction was not documented, the report indicated.

"We showed this all to the auditors, but in the state auditor's opinion, we didn't have very good control over that money," said Collins. "We disagree and thought we ought to take care of our employees, and the money was always on me, and that night it was in a safe, so it was always secure in my mind, so the commission disagrees with their finding, but there's not much you can do about it. They have written us up for it."

The audit indicated the County Commission did not record phone conversations verifying the agreement between commissioners to withdraw the funds, and the Collector-Treasurer was not notified of the transaction. The auditor did not determine why the funds were withdrawn and dispersed in the manner Collins did so.

"Fortunately, power came back on quicker than we thought. At the time we didn't have a schedule of when it would come back on, and I believe some of the banks actually came back on that Saturday, and then they were open that Monday. The $50,000 except for $1,200 of it was re-deposited into the bank on that Monday. The $1,200 dollars was used to buy two generators that we used in the city of Arbyrd and the city of Malden. Those generators are on site at the county jail now," said Collins.

According to the audit, Collins purchased two generators, fuel and other items costing $1,265, however the purchases were not supported by the County Clerk. Also, a list of personal checks was not recorded on deposit slips. The remaining balance of cash and checks totaled $48,735 the following Monday, when banks were back open.

"The state auditor took issue when the commission decided to withdraw $50,000 in order to pay our employees," said Collins. "In 2009, of course, (we) took in the federally declared ice storm."

The audit suggested all disbursements of county funds should be made through the county's disbursement system, which requires the signature of various county officials as well as adequate documentation. By doing so, the risk of fraud is reduced.

A second issue was raised by the audit. The report indicated one-time salary payments made to employees may have violated the Missouri Constitution. Collins said the county government issues raises after the fiscal year; however, state law does not allow employees to be paid for "services rendered."

"We're going to keep doing it the same way, and we have asked the state auditor's office to tell us a way to do it that'll agree with your procedures and they've never given me a response," said Collins. "For the last four to five years, this is the way we've been doing it because we have better control of our money that way."

Collins said Dunklin County can better manage money by issuing raises at the end of the financial year.

"If in 2010, we had a good year, we know what the amount of money is we can use for raises. We can decide what that is and we award it January the following year, and we also do a fixed amount for a raise. There's a state statute that says we're supposed to do a percentage, but we disagree because our highest paid employee, if we used a percentage, is going to get a lot better raise than our lowest employee," said Collins. "Instead of us trying to forecast how the year is going to go, give a raise in January, then to find out we've lost $50,000 in December, and we can't afford that raise."

The state audit reports on financial and accounting findings every four years.

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