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Auditor gives Howard County worst rating

The Columbia Daily Tribune,
BYLINE: Jodie Jackson Jr.
Link to Article

Howard County, Fayette, MO

Howard County’s finances are in “poor” condition, according to a state audit that flags a variety of money-handling issues and practices that are potential violations of state law.

Among the findings in the report Auditor Tom Schweich issued yesterday was the discovery of an envelope of seized cash — totaling $3,500 for one case — on a shelf in the unsecured evidence room at the sheriff’s office. The cash was seized in August 2010 and was noted by auditors on March 31, 2011.

The audit also noted procedures in the offices of the county clerk, collector and public administrator. It gave Howard County the lowest possible rating, indicating that the county needs to “significantly improve operations” and that prior audit recommendations have not been followed.

Howard County Presiding Commissioner Lowell Eaton said this morning he was disappointed that the county did not receive at least a “fair” rating and that commissioners did not have a chance to see the audit before it was made public.

“In the past, we have had a week” to review the audit “before they put it out,” Eaton said, explaining that he hadn’t seen the report until this morning. “It would have been nice to get a look at it before they start telling how poorly we handle things.”

Eaton, the county’s presiding commissioner since 2003, said the report does not credit officials for being “pretty frugal” to avoid deficit spending or for meeting some prior recommendations.

“We knew we had some concerns. I was surprised it wasn’t a ‘fair’ rating,” he said, noting that some of the new findings “can be fixed pretty quick.”

But the audit found widespread bookkeeping and record-keeping problems, including some that have persisted for years.

For example, the sheriff’s office in Fayette has not performed bank reconciliations for five years, the report said. The audit also was critical of the absence of record-keeping and timely deposits pertaining to the purchase and sale of phone cards to inmates.

“We have repeatedly identified weaknesses in the sheriff’s controls and procedures, but improvements still have not been made,” the audit report stated.

Sheriff Charlie Polson did not return a Tribune phone call requesting comment this morning.

In a response to auditors included in the report, the sheriff’s bookkeeper said she was “too busy to perform bank reconciliations” because of other office duties, including her roles as jailer, dispatcher and prisoner transport guard. The sheriff’s response said an intern attempted to reconcile the accounts in 2009, but the report concluded the reconciliations were inaccurate.

The sheriff’s response to auditors said record-keeping improvements will be made and that seized cash will be kept in a bank safe-deposit box.

“We are doing the best job we can in reviewing and documenting the review of records given the amount of manpower available,” it said.

The county commission didn’t escape criticism from the auditors, who pointed out declining general revenue cash balances resulting from fund transfers to offset expenses in other funds. Howard County ended 2010 with a balance of $82 in general revenue. The audit pointed out that the commission also authorized paying some expenses from restricted funds, which was “not in accordance with state law.”

Auditors plan to review the county again within 90 days and could forward any remaining concerns to the attorney general.

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