Facing the loss of a half-million dollars, Cache County leaders promise changes to end misuse of taxpayer money

The Tuesday vote is the latest fallout from a state audit accusing county prosecutors of misconduct.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Old Cache County Courthouse in Logan on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Following a scathing state audit and the potential loss of state grant funds, the Cache County Council voted to overhaul its accounting practices that have been in place for over a decade.

The council voted Tuesday to “significantly alter” its accounting — removing the responsibility from the county executive and assigning the task to the county auditor’s office, according to a news release from the county following the approval of an ordinance and resolution. The changes also include expanded internal controls over taxpayer money.

The county said in the news release that the updates, “involve more elected officials in the oversight of taxpayer dollars.”

The move to overhaul its bookkeeping practices comes just weeks after the county received a report from the Utah Office for Victims of Crime saying around $500,000 in state grants were being withheld from the county. A news release from Aug. 7 said the county at risk of losing “millions of dollars” more in state and federal grants.

The move to withhold state funds followed a state auditor’s report in April that alleged former members of the Cache County Attorney’s Office misused public funds and took on side contracts to prosecute cases outside of Cache County without approval from county leaders.

“While these changes are, in part, a response to recent audits of Cache County by the Utah State Auditor’s Office and the Utah Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), they are also a way to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and ethically,” the county said.

The state audit from April also alleged members of the county attorney’s office had misused federal grant money.

In the past, Cache prosecutors had received a federal grant in order to reimburse the costs of prosecuting specific types of violent crime, the audit says.

Though prosecutors in Cache County had contracted to take on cases in Rich County, the audit alleges the Rich County Attorney told the commission he and the then-elected Cache County Attorney, “wanted to cut Cache County out of their arrangement.”

A previous contract between the two counties was terminated by the end of 2018, but the Cache County Attorney later signed a contract to work as Rich County’s chief criminal deputy attorney — effectively the main attorney prosecuting criminal cases.

The audit alleged that the Cache prosecutors were billing expenses from prosecuting Rich County cases to the federal grant, even though that was not within the terms of the grant.

During the Tuesday council meeting, David Zook, the county executive, said he was drafting a response to the OVC in an attempt to prove the county was making changes and the grant money should be released to Cache County.

County Council Chair David Erickson said the notion of changing the accounting practices was met with some defiance within the county government, but said the council is committed to making changes for the better.

“We are unified to make sure that the county’s money, the county’s funds, are spent accurately, and that they’re in good faith, and that the entities that actually give us that money, they can trust us all the way through,” Erickson said.