The Grand County Board of Commissioners moved forward with new internal controls to track cash flowing through county coffers.
County department heads gathered in the commissioners meeting room on Tuesday, Aug. 20, to discuss a list of directives regarding new policies for the county, including establishing standard operating procedures for documenting, handling and transferring cash.
The list of 15 areas of focus was adopted at the commissioners July 22 meeting and based off of an internal accounting investigation conducted by accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal. The investigation followed in the wake of a scandal in the county building department in which about $500,000 in funds was misappropriated. Former building department employee Brigid Irish has been charged in that case.
The list was meant to help the county establish controls that could prevent similar issues in future, and during the Tuesday meeting, the county made progress on some of the list’s primary items.
A hot topic in earlier conversations had been whether the county could centralize payments in the treasurer’s office.
“I think it would be difficult here with how we’re spread out, not only in Hot Sulphur, but across the county,” said Scott Berger, county finance director.
A recurring complaint with the proposal and others was that the extra hoops would compromise customer service.
Representatives from Alvarez & Marsal joined the meeting by phone and suggested that the county still develop an overarching policy.
“You have a very strong policy and general standard operating procedure, and then you deal with the exceptions from that,” said Nancy Zielke, with Alvarez & Marsal.
It seemed that the county would move forward with a general policy.
Petty cash, credit cards and security
Eliminating petty cash within departments was another directive on the list, thought department heads had some trouble determining whether the cash they had was petty cash or a change drawer.
Officials decided that, in the case of petty cash, a general policy would be developed and the finance director would approve variances among departments.
Another county proposal had been a credit-card only policy when it comes to payments to the county outside of the administration building, though department heads were doubtful that the policy could be implemented, citing anonymous donations, the lack of clients with credit cards, and the question of how fees would be absorbed by the county or passed to clients.
During the meeting, Undersheriff John Stein said that adding an alarm system and surveillance cameras in the treasurer’s office would be feasible.
County Treasurer Christina Whitmer said she didn’t believe that additional security measures like locking doors and separate entryways were necessary.
Stein also suggested that county sheriff’s office was open to assisting with transporting cash from the treasurer’s office to the bank.
The county will also move forward with installing an ATM in the county administration building.
County makes progress in accounting software, hiring
The county has already gotten a jump on other major items, including hiring a new accountant and finding new software to assist department heads in accounting for revenues.
Curtis Lange will assist the accounting and finance department in implementing new procedures, Berger said.
Lange is a retired CPA and was previously working with the county’s road and bridge department.
The county’s information systems director Maratin Woros is currently shopping for software that would help department heads monitor revenues and track cash, Berger said.
The software that the county has its eye on seems to fulfill the county’s needs for tracking cash collection and accounts receivable, Berger said, but there were some questions about how the county would train employees to use it.
Alvarez & Marsal representatives suggested their organization could help train employees, though some county officials expressed concern at the additional costs of a new contract with Alvarez & Marsal.
“They’re looking for a consulting fee,” said Tom Weydert, Grand County assessor. “I think that they can certainly play a role, but I don’t think they should have a full turnkey operation.”
But others thought the accounting firm would help the county meet its end-of-the-year deadline for implementing the new software.
“Leaning on these folks to help us get through this might not be a bad idea especially with the timeline we’re looking at,” Woros said.
Zielke with Alvarez & Marsal said she would get back to the county with an cost estimate for additional assistance from her firm.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.