Grant County government is still operating with financial uncertainty as it continues to await monthly financial reports from the County Treasurer.
The amount of money the County Treasurer and County Auditor’s offices said the county had on hand in all its funds at the end of 2015 was off by more than half a million dollars, according to a State Board of Accounts audit released this month. The Treasurer’s Cash Book, according to the audit, showed the county had $558,752 more than what the sum total from the Auditor’s Ledger was.
The inability to reconcile balances has plagued the Treasurer’s office since Sarah Melford’s first year in office in 2011, when no monthly financial report was filed all year long, according to a SBOE audit. Per state law, the monthly financial report for any month is due on the 16th of the following month. The county is still awaiting monthly financial reports for all of 2016 and 2017.
Reconciling balances between the two offices is a standard checks and balances procedure meant to catch any mistakes. But the system falls apart if monthly financial reports are not completed in a reasonable time frame, and it allows for the possibility of a large mistake going undetected.
The lack of financial reports leaves elected county officials uncertain on how much money the county really has. That uncertainty has frustrated county commissioners and county council members in the past, as well as County Auditor Roger Bainbridge.
“If someone were to come here with a gun and asked me how much money the county has or they’d shoot me, I’d have to tell them to shoot me,” Bainbridge said.
Melford, in her response to the audit dated May 16 of this year, said she regrets that the problems in her office have continued.
“I assure to you, and to the taxpayers of Grant County, that I have taken steps to remediate these issues,” Melford wrote, setting a Sept. 15, 2017 completion date for all of the 2016 and 2017 monthly financial reports.
The problems in the office came to a head when, in February, former Chief Deputy Treasurer Peggy Dickerson was charged with with five counts of theft and one count of corrupt business influence after an investigation between the SBOA and the Grant County Sheriff’s Department determined more than $11,000 of public money was missing.
A “Special Investigation Report” from the SBOA found that the Treasurer’s Office had “several deficiencies” in its internal control system, such as a lack of segregation of duties relating to collecting and depositing of tax payments that might make stealing easier, during the time period police say Dickerson stole the money.
Melford said Friday her self-imposed mid-September deadline is now pushed back to late September because Chief Deputy Tiffany Griffith had to recently take a medical leave of absence. Despite that, Melford expressed confidence in her office’s ability to catch up with the reports.
“We’re working nonstop,” Melford said. “It’s number one priority.