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Perry County audit finds improper payments

COLUMBUS – F o rme r Au d i t o r o f S t a t e Be t t y Montgomery released the 2005 financial audit of Perry County Jan. 4, which revealed improper payments of compensatory time, or “comp” time, and overtime to 21 employees in the county engineer’s department totaling more than $8,720.

The audit also reviewed allegations brought by outgoing Perry County Auditor Larry Householder that property values were improperly altered by incoming Perry County Auditor Teresa Stevenson, who is a former county auditor employee, and another county employee. The audit revealed the county auditor’s office failed to have changes properly approved by the Perry County Board of Revision in certain cases that required board approval.

According to a statement from the Ohio Auditor, auditors reviewed employee time cards at the Perry County Engineer’s department. The review found several problems relating to the accrual of comp time and overtime, including:

+ There was no evidence or written prior authorization of overtime as required by department policy.

+ Employees were illegally p e r m i t t e d t o a c c u m u l a t e “negative” comp time. In other words, they were allowed to use comp time that was unearned.

+ Contrary to department policy, certain employees were awarded comp time and overtime when they had not worked more than 40 hours in a week.

As a result of the audit, employees who accumulated “negative” comp time agreed to reductions in vacation and sick leave equal to the amount of negative comp time accumulated. After taking into consideration reductions in vacation and sick leave balances, Montgomery issued a finding for recovery totaling $8,726.78 among 21 employees for improper comp time and overtime accrual. The finding for recovery was repaid during the course of the audit.

Ohio Auditor Director of Public Affairs Jen Detwiler said the auditor’s officeserves as a reporting agency rather than an enforcement agency. “We have referred the matter of improper comp time to the Ohio Ethics Commission,” she said.

According to Montgomery’s statement, the audit also found discrepancies relating to holiday pay and the use of the department time clock. It is unclear from the employee time cards whether time claimed on the cards was actually worked by the employees, and whether the employees used appropriate type leave time for time off around the holidays.

Detwiler said that in some instances, employees failed to use the clock. Time worked was written in by hand. She said that these circumstances raise questions as to whether employees actually worked during the time period when the clock was not utilized. “These circumstances could potentially be indicative of abuse,” said Detwiler. “We recommend the department adopt a policy regarding use of a time clock.”

Detwiler said the department installed a new and modern time clock, which more efficiently accounts for comp time and overtime. This matter is also being considered by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

According to Montgomery’s report, Perry County Engineer Kent Cannon firmly believes that there was no malicious intent or improper action on the part of the employees.

Perry County Commissioner Lonnie Wood said Wednesday that none of the negative comp time was accrued by county employees to help remodel a Zanesville Steak N Stein establishment in which Householder, Cannon, and Perry County Commissioner Thad Cooperrider had vested interest. Some questioned if this were the case last year. Wood said that no engineer’s office employees gained comp time by working at the establishment “whatsoever.”

Wood said Cannon no longer allows employees to accrue negative comp time. Wood believes that the problems arose from allowing employees to be too “loose” when filling out time cards. “I think it’s pretty well been taken care of,” he said. “I guarantee it’ll be a tight ship over there from here on out.”

Auditors also reviewed Householder’s allegations that property values were improperly altered by Stevenson and employee Katie Watts.

Detwiler said, “We have no evidence at this time of any inappropriate changes in property values.”

St e v e n s o n , wh o t a k e s office in April, was fired last summer and Watts was placed on administrative leave, accused of illegally distributing political campaign material and soliciting votes during officehours.

According to the Ohio Auditor’s statement, in the property tax appraisal process, Ohio law allows county auditors to make certain corrections (clerical errors, duplications) to property tax values. However, all changes to property tax values are subject to correction only by the county board of revision.

County personnel indicated to state auditors that in some instances, changes to property tax valuations that should have been submitted to the Perry County Board of Revision were made without being presented to or approved by the board. Auditors also noted several security weaknesses relative to the software applications used to manage property tax values and other officefunctions:

+ Passwords for user accounts on the real estate software application were not changed periodically to ensure security. Auditors recommend a maximum lifetime of 90 days for all passwords.

+ Passwords for software programs used to manage budgetary and payroll functions were changed only every 180 days.

+ The systems did not utilize a “lockout” policy in which access to an application is denied excessive unsuccessful login attempts.

Montgomery noted in the audit that a lack of security controls increases the likelihood that employees could access the system using another employee’s password to make inappropriate modifications to records. The audit’s management letter recommends the county auditor adopt and implement written policies and procedures concerning software application access and security measures, documentation to be maintained, r e t e n t i o n o f d o c ume n t s , procedures governing changes to property values, and appropriate supervisory controls to ensure all changes are made appropriately and lawfully.

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