State audit critiques two Essex County departments
The Essex County Sheriff’s and Probation departments need to increase oversight of financial operations, according to an audit the state comptroller’s office released Wednesday.
County Manager Dan Palmer, in his written responses to both audits, said he generally agreed with the comptroller’s findings and noted that county officials are already taking steps to make improvements.
The comptroller’s office examined financial transactions at both departments between Jan. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012.
The comptroller’s office said cash receipts at the probation department weren’t accounted for, secured and deposited in a timely manner. Additionally, the audit found shortcomings in the ways that driving-while-intoxicated administrative fees are handled.
“The Department’s failure to establish policies and procedures regarding (DWI) administrative fees has resulted in an inequitable assessment of fees to probationers and a lack of enforcement of inactive probationers’ delinquent accounts,” the audit said. “As a result, the County has not collected all revenues that could be used to offset the Department’s cost of providing DWI probation supervision services.”
The audit found that 89 “inactive probationers” owe DWI fees ranging from $9,710 to $58,260.
“The evolution of the numerous collection responsibilities related to restitution, restitution surcharge, administrative fees (DWI), fines, drug test fees and electronic monitoring fees found Probation ill-prepared from an accounting standpoint to handle,” Palmer said in his response. “Staff expertise related to accounting and financial controls was lacking and no guidelines to assist were forthcoming.
“Nonetheless, the Department did its best to ensure that all monies collected were properly accounted for.”
Palmer noted that $247,667 was collected and accounted for during the audit period, and that “no exceptions were noted following a random review of 110 receipts.”
The report said a money-handling policy, established in April 2012, wasn’t adhered to, and a civil clerk performed “virtually all financial duties without sufficient oversight or other mitigating controls.”
The audit said receipts weren’t “properly accounted for, secured, and deposited in a timely manner,” and that the department’s computer system “allowed for the ability to modify and delete financial transactions,” meaning transactions could have been manipulated or concealed – although there’s no evidence they were.
Additionally, the civil clerk stamped department checks with a stamp of Sheriff Richard Cutting’s signature without oversight or review by him, the audit said.
The comptroller’s office recommended that the sheriff’s department segregate billing duties, maintain control of the signature stamp and update the computer system to “provide for an adequate audit trail,” among other things.
Palmer said the audit showed that bail, fines, civil collections, service fees and other funds related to the sheriff’s department were handled appropriately.
“Despite this, we do have some procedural issues that (the) audit uncovered and we have developed a plan to address these issues,” he wrote.
Palmer said the county “generally concurred” with the findings of both audits. He said the county will file two corrective action plans within 90 days, as is required by General Municipal Law.
The county will also provide the comptroller’s office with a progress report as it implements corrective measures.
“We appreciate the opportunity to have financial specialists review our operations and give direction on how we can improve,” Palmer wrote. “The numerous and varied situations whereby our personnel handle money along with the limited number of people in certain offices often create situations where unique protocols must be created to ensure both (a) complete audit trail and accurate handling of these funds.”