Commissioners pleased with ‘fair’ rating in audit
The Ozark County Commissioners and County Clerk say they are happy with Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick’s rating of fair for the county.
“Eighty to 85 percent of [state] audits are fair audits. It’s nothing new,” said Ozark County Clerk Brian Wise.
In a report released Nov. 21, the state auditors found several recurring issues and several new concerns since the previous state audit in 2019.
“There continue to be numerous areas where officials in Ozark County can make significant improvements that will allow them to better manage taxpayer money and resources,” said Fitzpatrick.
The audit identified several areas of concern with controls and procedures in the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office. The main concern was the lack of adequate segregation of accounting duties and a failure to perform adequate supervisory reviews of detailed accounting bank records. Adequate segregation of duties was found deficient in several of the county offices.
“If you’ll look at most of [county departments], especially the sheriff’s department, every time it says ‘separation’ we’d have to hire somebody else,” said Wise.
“It’s like the recycling center and the separation of duties,” added Ozark County Presiding Commissioner Terry Newton. “You can’t do that without hiring extra people, and we’ve got three full-time people over there right now.”
“How audits are held are completely black and white,” said Wise. “The amount of money that would have to be spent is not even thought of. They [auditors] know this, and they’ll say it... in a closed meeting that nobody can come to. They’ll say it over and over and over, ‘We know you guys don’t have the ability to be able to pay for this, but we have to write you up.’ So there’s going to be some stuff in there, especially for the Sheriff’s Department that will always be in there, especially the separation of duties.”
The audit also found that the Sheriff’s office did not have property controls and procedures over seized property. A sampling of the previous evidence system log failed to locate four out of eight items including three guns and one piece of drug evidence.
Another area the auditor’s report highlighted was the mid-term salary increase the Ozark County Commissioners approved for the sheriff. According to the report, the increase violates the Missouri Constitution. However, the raise is legal according to Missouri law, county officials said. This audit finding, in particular, caused some controversy when the audit was released last week.
“Do you want to talk about the sheriff’s raise?” asked Wise during the weekly Ozark County Commissioners’ meeting. “So there was a law change, a massive law change, that required counties to give the sheriff a raise over five years, 20 percent per year so it didn’t just all hit at once. [The law] went through three sets of appeals. It went through the court of appeals and everything you can go through for state law, and it stood. They said this state law is valid.
“But the other side of the coin is the state constitution says you can’t take a raise in midterm.”
This ruling has caused problems and confusion statewide.
“Two-thirds of the counties did the same thing [we did],” said Wise. “Some of the counties even skipped the 20 percent over five years and just gave [the sheriffs] the full raise, which actually goes against the state law that was put on the books.”
Wise said he and the lead auditor had a lengthy conversation about the raise and the state law versus the state constitution.
“She said ‘I have to write you up about this.’ And I said ‘you’re going to go against state law and write us up?’ She said ‘but it’s against the constitution.’
“But this needs to be in black and white that we followed state law,” said Wise. “We flatout followed state law.
“The state legislators put us in a really bad place.”
Several other issues were found within county offices including timely bank reconciliations, lack of written receipts, lack of written policies and electronic security and communication.
Despite the rating and identification of problems within county departments, the commissioners are overall pleased with the audit findings.
“I’ve been here for 23 years,” said Wise. “During that time, before Nicole Gallaway, the previous auditor, her first audit that was done for a county under her control got the highest rating they could possibly get. That had never happened before that, and it’s never happened since.
“If a county has completely unlimited funds it would be easy to get a good audit. It would be. With just a little bit of effort it would be.
“And what they don’t do is they don’t look back at the previous audit in the current audit report and tell everybody what we changed from the previous audit, what we fixed and all that stuff. I consider this audit a good one.”
Newton agreed. “Bottom line is that we’re happy with the audit and we’re going to keep working as hard as we can.”
Editor’s note: A more thorough look at the state auditor’s report will be printed in the Dec. 6, 2023, edition of the Ozark County Times.