State auditors say some numbers don't add up for Lake officials

2012-10-01T00:00:00Z 2012-10-01T13:47:04Z State auditors say some numbers don't add up for Lake officialsBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
October 01, 2012 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | The Indiana State Board of Accounts is scolding some Lake County officials for sloppy bookkeeping and failure to promptly distribute taxes to cities, towns and township government agencies.

The audits, released last week, didn't disclose any public money missing or any criminal wrongdoing by those handling county funds, but did demand the Lake County adhere to more strict accounting practices in the future.

Lake County Attorney John Dull said the state auditors' chief complaint was county officials were collecting delinquent property taxes but failing to promptly pass along the share owed to municipal and township agencies.

He said the county will be distributing about $4 million to those local government units before the end of the year.

Dull said more than $1.6 million of the money was properly withheld to reimburse county government for the cost of litigation and public auctions of real estate to collect the overdue taxes.

While the state auditors said in their reports they cannot find any state law giving the county authority to keep those funds, Dull said he responded to the audit recently with a memo citing state laws the county relied on for the reimbursement.

"We haven't heard any complaints from them since," Dull said.

A State Board of Accounts report said the county clerk "does not have the adequate internal controls over financial reporting that would facilitate the preparation of accurate and complete financial reports."

It said the office claimed to be holding millions more dollars last year in cash and investments than state auditors could find recently. The auditors blamed the discrepancy on basic accounting errors.

State auditors also reported the clerk failed to void outstanding checks, some more than two years old, and didn't charge criminal defendants all the court fees required by state law if their charges are dismissed through the prosecutor's pretrial diversion program. It said some defendants were only charged $110 or $170, instead of an amount that could total more than $200.

County Clerk Mike Brown responded he will be more aggressive in training his bookkeepers.

"Although difficult, a serious effort to bring these offices into compliance with SBOA practices will be made. In the event these employees are unable to be trained, they will be replaced," he wrote.

Brown said the prosecutor's office will take part in correcting the collection of pretrial diversion fees.

The audits cited the treasurer's office for failing to account for errors in keeping a running total of their tax collections. Treasurer John Petalas responded they are investigating the purchase of an automated accounting system to catch the errors sooner.

The state auditors cited the prosecutor's office for failing to properly report how much it spends on personal service and supplies to administer its program to collect court-ordered child support. The prosecutor's office said future reports will be reviewed by upper management to ensure quality control.

A state audit urged County Auditor Peggy Katona to increase the amount of her official bond to $30,000 from $15,000, as required by a 2009 state law. The county also must create a more strict travel policy defining who is eligible to receive public money for travel-related lodging and food.

An audit also asked the county health department to provide more accurate and detailed accounting of fees its staff collects for public services.

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