A state audit report released Tuesday identified several areas of concern at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, particularly regarding oversight of funding.
The audit was sparked by an anonymous complaint sent to the office in summer or fall 2017 and resulted in a number of recommendations from the state — all of which the county has agreed to comply with.
The findings indicated that from August 2013 to August 2017 the office failed to adequately report donations designated for search and rescue, oversee gift card purchases and distribution, and record purchases with county cards for meals.
Additionally, the audit says, the department appeared not to have complied with a county ordinance regarding vehicle-related transactions and hadn’t adequately trained employees regarding personal use of county property.
At least one employee, “who is in an authoritative position, failed to recognize that personal use of county property was not allowed” and on at least two occasions used county equipment for personal use, the audit says.
Auditors recommended the county conduct an ethics training for all officers and employees, which the county agreed to do.
The sheriff’s office also purchased a vehicle and traded in 10 vehicles without first obtaining approval from the county commission, as mandated by county ordinances.
In a response from the county, officials agreed to follow proper procedures regarding vehicles. They also noted that while the office should have obtained prior approval, the transactions in question have since been ratified by the commission.
About $124,000 of the $279,000 spent on search and rescue operations in the county came from donations designated by donors for that purpose, the report says.
However, the county had improperly categorized the money into a fiduciary fund rather than the general fund, and therefore, that money was not subject to “regular budgetary and oversight procedures.”
County officials accepted the auditors' recommendation of properly reporting donations — including the backlog of funding that had been improperly categorized — and of putting the money into the correct fund in the future.
Despite the error, county officials noted, the donations in question were in fact used in accordance with donors’ wishes.
The county “lacks adequate policies” to ensure that employees don’t waste or abuse county-issued purchase cards, the audit says, and “usually” relied on approval after a purchase was made rather than before.
More than half of the $6,339 spent on food over the four-year period was missing documentation regarding a clearly established business purpose for the purchases or the number of people served at a meal. The county didn’t have a policy establishing controls over food-related purposes, the audit says.
“Based on available documentation it appears that at least some of the purchases were meals for search and rescue personnel, which would be considered reasonable,” the audit says. “However, without sufficient documentation we cannot conclude on the reasonableness with certainty.”
The county also had a practice of purchasing gift cards to give to employees, search and rescue volunteers and spouses throughout the year, the audit says. Between December 2016 and January 2017, the county purchased almost $6,500 worth of gift cards and had $2,500 of them on hand in October 2017 when auditors were there.
The gift cards left the office at risk because they weren’t properly safeguarded or accounted for, auditors said. A budget officer was the sole employee appointed to have custody of the cards and track distribution on a spreadsheet, which was created in June 2017. The county also failed to report gift cards as compensation to the IRS and the state’s public finance website.
The state recommended separating record-keeping and custody duties, limiting the gift cards on hand, more reliably recording gift card purchases and distribution, and reconciling purchase and distribution records with the number of gift cards on hand. It also recommended implementing policies to ensure the compensation is reported to the government.
In the county’s response, officials stated that it had since discontinued the use of gift cards, but agreed to comply with the recommendations were it to implement the practice again.