Comptroller: Franklin County short on reimbursement

MALONE – A new report from the state comptroller has the Franklin County manager miffed.

The report, titled “Reimbursement of Social Services Costs,” says Franklin County didn’t getting enough reimbursement from the state and federal government for costs related to running social services from Jan. 1, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2012. Those reimbursements could have garnered $328,800 in additional revenue for the county.

Franklin County isn’t alone. The report targets seven counties and says some of the departments there didn’t properly bill for interdepartmental services this year included county attorneys, district attorney offices, information systems, offices for the aging, sheriff’s offices and transportation.

In Franklin County, the report specifically states that “a switchboard operator in Franklin County was spending as much as 50 percent of her time working on DSS (Department of Social Services)-related matters. However, the county was not seeking reimbursement for her services, resulting in over $55,000 not being claimed during the audit scope period.”

The report also says Franklin and Greene counties incorrectly billed DSS for early childhood intervention services.

“We determined that in calculating the costs, the Public Health Departments erroneously reduced the billings to DSS by 50 percent prior to sending the claims in for reimbursement,” the report reads.

Franklin County Manager Tom Leitz said the county is submitting a request to back claim $52,000 in reimbursements over a two-year period. That is one-half of 1 percent of the $6 million the county spends on social services programs.

Leitz said the comptroller’s report is misleading and that the $328,000 it cites in unclaimed reimbursements is way off.

“They looked at, more or less, one narrow reimbursement stream,” Leitz said. “They talk about the telephone operator and how we didn’t claim about $50,000 there. We did. We maximized our reimbursement through a totally different revenue stream. You can’t claim twice for the same expense. We gave that information to them prior to the publication of the audit, but it didn’t change their findings.”

Leitz particularly took issue with the fact that the audit targeted reimbursement for social service programs through the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the Office of Children and Family Services.

“The audit failed to note that this particular agency is but one funding source for the Department of Social Services, and that certain items cited in the audit as ‘lost revenue’ were in fact claimed through other means,” Leitz said. “In the final analysis we were able to claim for $52,248 – a far cry from what was cited in the audit.”

Leitz and Lesley Lyon, Franklin County’s director of social services, both said another problem is that different agencies are telling them to claim for different things.

“We initially welcomed the social services audit because it had been years since a state agency worked cooperatively with the county to ensure we were maximizing reimbursement,” Lyon said. “They (comptroller’s office) told us we should be claiming 100 percent of probation officers who work with juveniles.”

A letter from the state Office for Child and Family Services dated Oct. 1 paints a different picture. It says unallowable probation department personnel costs for DSS to pay are, but are not limited to, performing court-ordered investigations, pre-sentencing activities, probation supervision and violation of probation activities.

“If we claim 100 percent of what they (comptroller’s office) want us to claim, we would be claiming for people to do these activities,” Leitz said. “It’s an obvious red flag if you get a letter saying not to do something and you do it.”

The county Board of Legislators recently voted to override the property tax cap, raising the tax levy by 5 percent from 2013 to 2014. The override added about $300,000 to the fund balance, something the state comptroller had recommended in a previous audit that blasted legislators for depleting the county’s reserves to balance previous budgets.

“The justification for exceeding the cap was largely driven by the comptroller’s audit, which noted the county is under significant fiscal stress,” Leitz said. “Almost immediately thereafter, Gov. Cuomo’s Tax Relief Commission suggested sending homeowners 2 percent property tax rebates, but only if the local government stayed within the 2 percent tax cap. If the recommendations of the commission are enacted, Franklin County residents could face a penalty for their governing body accepting the recommendations of the state comptroller.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or