ELIZABETHTON — Carter County’s new Audit Committee is working with state and local officials to correct several long-term accounting problems in the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, including listings showing nearly $400,000 has built up in undisbursed collections.
These undisbursed accounts were reported in the 2012 annual audit of the county government by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and was an item of discussion during the April meeting of the county’s Audit Committee.
Audit Committee Chairman David Wortman said he and his fellow committee members were concerned because it was a recurring deficiency and shows “something in their daily process is broken.”
Wortman said it was important for the public to understand that the audit did not find any shortages.
The audit report commented about the finding being a recurring deficiency.
“It should be noted that this is a recurring deficiency that has been reported to the Circuit and General Sessions Clerk since the fiscal year ended June 30, 2004,” Auditor Mark Treece wrote.
The auditor said state law requires the clerk’s office to compile a report that includes “a listing of all cases for which funds are being held, showing the style of each case and the amount held for each case.”
The computer software used by the clerk generated a listing of undisbursed items instead of a docket trial balance. The auditor said this listing did not meet the requirements of the law and did not provide adequate information to determine which funds are unclaimed. The clerk was also not able to determine the status of all funds, since the listing of undisbursed funds does not reconcile with the office’s general ledger. At the time of the audit, the amount was off by $90,675 in Circuit Court and $289,116 in Sessions Court.
Circuit Court Clerk John Paul Mathes said part of the problem has come about by his office’s conversion to new software. He said the office has become the first office in the state to switch to the Icon software.
“The new software is much more transparent. It brought into light the problems with the previous software,” a Circuit Court worker said.
Even the transition to the new software has created additional problems, since the county is the first one in the state to use it. Wortman said the company is working out the bugs in its program through the problems the county experiences.
Mathes said there are many different areas where funds are disbursed. This includes payments on fines and costs, bail bond revocations and checks on condemnation proceedings.
He said some of those checks cannot be touched until a judge issues an order. He said sometimes the wait can be several years for such a case to be decided.
Mathes said progress has recently been made with disbursements on bail bond forfeitures. He said he recently sent $51,000 to the state and $19,000 to the county on that resolution.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey emphasized the audit did not find any missing funds. He also complimented the Audit Committee on its work. He said the committee, made up of accountants and financial planners, was providing a needed outside overview of the county audit and corrections that needed to be made as a result of the findings.
Humphrey said the problem will be difficult to fix in part because it goes back many years. He suggested a retired accountant might be hired who has the time to go through years of books and make the corrections.
Wortman said it was important to fix the current problem. He said if it was just a problem from the past the current total would remain the same during each month’s reconciliation, but that number is changing.
Wortman suggested closing out the books on a daily basis for a short time instead of on a monthly basis. Because there would be a lot fewer transactions, any mistakes would be easier to catch. He said it would require more overtime for a short while.