Audit finds fault with county health department

State auditor also mentions problems with the county fair

It’s not what anyone would call a winning streak.

For the eighth straight audit in a row, the Washington State Auditor’s Office has found problems during its audit of Island County’s books.

The Island County Health Department was cited this time.

The audit listed one federal finding. It said Island County had inadequate internal controls to guarantee indirect costs were properly charged when the county health department spent $100,237 in federal grant money.

The money comes from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant for controlling communicable diseases, chronic diseases and disorders, and other preventable health conditions, the audit states. And the report noted that the county can’t be sure the costs for reimbursement it has submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are allowable.

In its response, the health department said while its method of calculating indirect costs had worked in the past, it also understood the procedures were out of date and needed to be changed.

The department also said it would ask the county auditor to review and approve its calculation method in the years ahead.

The audit was issued Monday, and covered the year 2006.

It was just the latest report to find problems. Since 1999, each state review has cited various areas within county government that need improvement to mesh with state laws, rules or the county’s own policies.

Last year, the audit for 2005 criticized the county’s system for billing property taxes. This year’s audit said that issue is “mostly resolved.”

The previous audit highlighted three problem areas. And while this year’s audit had just one finding, the state Auditor’s Office also noted other areas that need improvement during an exit conference with county officials.

Documents from that audit process show the state review found vaccines that were being kept in a public area, plus potential problems with cash handling in the clerk’s office and in the planning department. Too many people had access to a county safe where cash is kept overnight, the state said.

The planning department was faulted for keeping an unlocked cash box at the planning counter. The state also said it found four checks that were not deposited in a timely fashion, including one that dated back to October 2005.

County Commissioner Phil Bakke said the cash-handling problem cited in the planning department had been resolved. The department hired an accountant two months or so ago, he said.

“Her first order of business, as directed by me, because I was planning director at the time, was to set up a separate cash box for each employee handling cash, and secure it,” Bakke said.

Representatives from the state Auditor’s Office also highlighted other problem areas in county government, but did not add those issues to the audit report.

In a Sept. 28 management letter from audit manager Christopher Kapek, the state Auditor’s Office raised other issues for improvement that it didn’t list in the audit report.

At the top of the list was the Island County Fair. The state Auditor’s Office said county regulations over the operations of the fair were lacking and that public money was at stake.

“We found that Island County Code 2.20 does not clearly define the requirements of the Island County Fair Board, Island County and the Island County Fair Association regarding how the fair operations are monitored.”

“As such, Island County cannot ensure that county funds, accumulated by the Island County Fair, are monitored and used for allowable purposes,” the letter states.

The Auditor’s Office recommended the county and fair board sign a contract “that spells out how the county will monitor the fair.”

The fair was expected to get close scrutiny this year during the state audit.

In February, the state Auditor’s Office promised to review the operation of the fair after the fair association refused to release records on its finances. Critics of the fair association had raised questions over secret donations to the fair association’s legal war chest against the city of Langley, and the association hired a Seattle attorney to fight to keep the records private from The Record.

Representatives of the state Auditor’s Office met with fair and county officials in March to talk about the controversy surrounding the fair; some suggested creating a contract between the fair and the county that would spell out the responsibilities of both sides.

But Bakke, who has stepped in to be the board of county commissioners’ point man on the fair since Mike Shelton resigned, said not everyone agrees that a contract is still necessary.

“I think there’s a little bit of a disagreement about whether or not an agreement is actually necessary.”

“With that said, before they even wrote that [audit] letter,

I have kind of felt that it would be helpful for all parties involved to have a better understanding of what one another’s roles are and what the expectations are,” he said. “I know that the code really doesn’t do that.”

“I think the events that happened in the past would lead you to think that spelling this out a little more would be better for everyone involved,” Bakke said.

“I’m not just talking about what the fair needs to do, I think it needs to talk about what the county needs to do,” he said.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates