A mandate for change

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By Jessica Singleton

The fiscal court has formed a plan of action to correct problems found by the grand jury.

In a special meeting on Thursday, Owen County Attorney Charlie Carter presented several ideas to address each item of the grand jury report.

The first item discussed was the audit process and who is allowed to attend the exit conferences. Although the grand jury report asked for all the magistrates to attend the exit conference, Carter said the law does not allow for the full court to attend the meeting. Instead, the meeting will include Carter, Owen County Judge-Executive Billy O’Banion, Owen County Treasurer Gayla Lewis, and one magistrate from a recently-formed audit committee.

Magistrate Teressa Davis requested that all magistrates get a copy of the exit conference report the same day that it is held. Carter said the fiscal court can invite the auditors to a fiscal court meeting to discuss the results. The audit of the ’07-’08 fiscal year is in progress and the new procedures will be in place for that exit conference.

This audit and exit conference process is similar for many local organizations. For example, the Owen County Public Library, whose books are also kept by Lewis, also undergoes regular audits and presents the information to the library board of trustees. Library Director Jennifer Nippert said they have not seen any red flags and expect the audit to go smoothly.

The results of the Owen County audit of the ’06-’07 fiscal year revealed problems with the payroll process. It recommended that a better system of checks-and-balances be put into place. In response, the payroll is now handled by an outside company, ADP.

There was also a concern about the QuickBooks software that the county uses to keep their books. The auditors stated that the program does not have a close-out procedure to protect past work. Without this close out procedure, past deposits and credits can be changed. While this program will no longer handle payroll, it is still used for the rest of the bookkeeping tasks.

O’Banion said the program was not changed because replacement programs are very expensive. He said if a program is found that is affordable, the county will consider switching from QuickBooks.

Carter continued by clarifying the law concerning the $300 the magistrates receive for serving on committees. These funds were given to the magistrates from July to September of this year. However, the committees the magistrates were appointed to were outside of the fiscal court and did not qualify for the allowance.

“If we were paid illegally, then we need to pay it back,” said Davis.

In order to receive these funds, the magistrates must serve on committees specific to the fiscal court. The court voted to create these committees, which will make the $300 payments legal.

Each magistrate will serve on two committees. The audit committee will be Ray Smith and Davis. The road committee will be Jerry Jones and Davis. The fiscal facilities committee will be Bobby Gaines and Smith. The budget committee will be Gaines and Jones. These committees must meet monthly and provide documentation of the meetings.

A big question brought up in the audit is what qualifies someone as a full-time employee. Carter said all employees must work at least 100 hours a month to qualify for employee benefits such as health insurance and retirement. He said that time sheets must be provided. In the past, magistrates kept records of their hours worked, but were not required to turn them in.

“Documentation is the key to almost all of this,” Carter said.

There was also concern about how employee expenses were reimbursed. The grand jury report said they could not find a written copy of the policy. Carter said the school board has well-written procedures in place. He recommended reviewing their policy and using it as a template to create the policy for Owen County employees. The rates will be fixed at the Oct. 14 meeting of the fiscal court.

The final point addressed at the meeting was to clarify how the ambulance bills are handled. An outside company, SDI, handles the billing process. Before, the outstanding bills would be turned over to the judge-executive’s office. It was decided that the outstanding bills will be handed over to Carter’s office for collections. He will then have the ability to take the cases to small claims court.

All of these changes will be implemented as soon as possible.

“We need to show the grand jury our good faith in fixing this,” Carter said.