Unicoi County audit turns up several deficiencies

Brad Hicks • Oct 22, 2013 at 9:11 PM

ERWIN — Auditors noted six findings, ranging from deficiencies in purchasing procedures to sick leave pay granted to a part-time employee not entitled to such a benefit, in the Unicoi County 2012-13 fiscal year audit, which was released last week by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

The audit reviewed the period from July 1, 2012, to June 30 of this year. Of the six findings, one pertained to the office of the county mayor and sheriff, one pertained to the director of schools’ office two to the county trustee’s office, one to the assessor of property’s office, and one finding specifically pertained to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

According to the audit, the mayor’s and sheriff’s offices had deficiencies in purchasing procedures. The audit states perishable food commodities purchased for the jail facilities — the Unicoi County Jail and the Unicoi County Jail Annex — were not bid.

“Therefore, we were unable to determine if the county received the most competitive price for food at the jail,” auditors stated. “The failure to solicit competitive bids could result in the county paying more than the most competitive price.”

Although Tennessee Code Annotated 5-14-204 provides that a governing body may exempt perishable commodities from bid requirements, auditors wrote that the Unicoi County Commission has not formally approved this exemption.

Sheriff Mike Hensley could not be reached Tuesday for comment but, in his response contained in the audit he stated that his office has since submitted purchase requests to multiple vendors requesting bids on perishable food and dry goods items.

“It’s my understanding that they’re going to work on it and try to make sure that everything’s bid that’s supposed to be by next year,” County Mayor Greg Lynch, whose office shared the finding, said Tuesday.

The second part of this finding pertained to a pair of used vehicles purchased by the UCSD. According to the audit, each of the vehicles was purchased for $9,995 without obtaining formal bids.

“Two separate checks were written for payments in September 2012 to the same dealership, apparently in an attempt to circumvent the county’s competitive bid requirements,” the audit states. Items purchased by the county costing $10,000 or more must be put through the bid process.

The audit states one of the invoices included a notation that, per sheriff’s department request, the vehicles be billed on separate invoices. State law allows for the purchase of used equipment without competitive bidding if certain documentation and conditions are met, but the audit states this documentation was not obtained by the county.

Auditors also noted purchase orders were not obtained for the vehicles, and one $2,290 payment was charged to the sheriff’s department’s maintenance and repair budget as the $17,700 budget for motor vehicles was not sufficient to cover the purchase price of the two vehicles.

In his response, Hensley stated his office will follow state code with regard to the purchase of secondhand equipment.

“It’s taking a little bit of time for them to acclimate themselves to that,” Lynch said. “I mean, we have, basically, a whole new administration — a new sheriff, a new administrator, a new chief deputy — so it’s just going to take some time, and I feel like we’ll work it out.”

Auditors also found that a cash shortage of $4,845.75 existed within the UCSD office as of June 30. This shortage was also included as a finding in an investigative audit issued by the state comptroller’s office in July. This investigative audit found a retired state employee and part-time sheriff’s department employee was paid the amount of the shortage for 146 hours of unearned sick leave time while out of work due to a medical condition. According to auditors, this employee, confirmed by Lynch on Tuesday to be UCSD Administrative Assistant Craig Masters, was not entitled to sick leave benefits that a full-time employee would receive under the sheriff’s department’s personnel policy.

“This employee was paid a total of $4,845.75 for 146 hours as if he were on sick leave due to a medical condition from July 28, 2012, through September 21, 2012,” the investigative audit stated. “Time sheets were not maintained by the department to support any time worked or leave taken by the employee during this period.”

The investigative audit was initiated after the comptroller’s office received an allegation Masters, a retired Tennessee Highway Patrol employee, was receiving retirement benefits from the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System and working an excessive number of hours as a part-time employee for the UCSD in violation of the TCRS guidelines.

Another finding in it noted deficiencies in the maintenance of Masters’ time sheets. According to the audit, there were instances in which Masters’ time sheets were not on file, sheriff’s department supervisors had not signed Masters’ time sheets that were on file, and the time sheets did not always accurately reflect the time Masters had worked.

The audit released last week states that as of Sept. 1, $1,500 of the shortage had been repaid, as recommended in the July investigative audit. In his response, Hensley stated Masters has agreed to reimburse the county the full $4,845 and has made arrangements with the mayor’s office to do so. Although his office did not share this finding, Lynch confirmed Hensley’s response and said he does not anticipate a similar finding in the future.

“I honestly think it was just an honest mistake,” Lynch said. “We’ve worked out an arrangement for (Masters) to pay it back, and I think he’ll pay it back. He’s not the type of person that I would think that would try to do anything under the table. So I have no doubt that will be taken care of.”

Auditors found that amounts withheld from the contractor completing site work for needed for the placement of portable classrooms for the Love Chapel Elementary School relocation were not deposited into an escrow account by the Unicoi County School System.

Unicoi County Director of Schools Denise Brown said Tuesday that this finding was an oversight, as the state law the referenced in the finding was added last year.

Auditors noted two findings for the trustee’s office, one for the office’s failure to implement adequate controls to protect its information resources, and the other for the sharing of user names and passwords by office employees. The audit states both of these deficiencies were addressed in January after being brought to the attention of management.

The audit’s final finding noted the property assessor’s office failed to prorate the values of new construction and improvements for the portion of the year following their completion, as required by state law.

The comptroller’s office has recommended that Unicoi County establish an audit committee and a central system of accounting, budgeting and purchasing.

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