Auditors: Washington County underestimated health care costs, overdrew from account

Nathan Baker • Jan 2, 2018 at 11:48 PM

In 2017, Washington County was late closing out its financial records, underestimated the costs of a new self-insured employee health program and its education department overdrew from its federal projects fund, according to a report by the state Comptroller’s Office.

Released Dec. 29, the government audit reported eight findings in the county mayor and financial director offices, seven in the education department, six in the trustee’s office, one in the clerk and master’s office, two in the sheriff’s department and one that spanned the county mayor, highway superintendent and sheriff’s offices.

One significant deficiency auditors found was in the accounting of the county’s new self-insurance program for employees, which by the end of the fiscal year on June 30 was showing a deficit of $1.1 million.

The auditor said the problems with the self-insurance fund were traced to employee premiums set too low to fund the health costs and errors in recording the charges and costs.

In a written response to the finding, the county said the conversion to a new accounting software system kept staff from properly setting up processes for the new self-insurance program, but said management was monitoring claims and other operating expenses throughout the year and were aware claims were higher than expected.

County Director of Finance and Administration Mitch Meredith wrote a plan to correct the problems by generating mid-year and year-end reports to make sure the insurance program is adequately funded.

In the education department, auditors found a cash overdraft of $243,598 in June from the school federal projects fund.

In a written response, Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said the overdraft resulted from a payment going out before the school district was reimbursed for the expense.

To correct the problem, the Washington County Commission transferred $500,000 from the general fund to the federal projects fund to act as a buffer in case the reimbursement schedule gets off again.

The school district was also questioned for buying vehicles without putting them out to bid. Apparently, five used vans were purchased for between $14,500 to $21,500 each. Tennessee law allows used equipment to be purchased without first soliciting bids, but the prices cannot be more than 5 percent of the equipment’s listed value in pricing publications. The law requires documentation, and the school district did not receive it before buying the vans.

Halliburton wrote that future used automobile purchases will be made with accompanying documentation showing they do not exceed the state’s price threshold. Vehicles priced higher than the threshold will not be purchased, she said.

In the County Trustee’s office, auditors found employees’ duties were not segregated properly to prevent unauthorized transactions and usernames and passwords for accounting software were shared among employees.

The Trustee’s office wrote that the problems were corrected in 2017.

Though there were more audit findings than in the last year’s audit, the Comptroller’s office wrote the county’s reserve funds were healthy, its budget was conservative and the local economy was strong, putting the county in a strong financial position.

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