State audit uncovers problem areas in county

A just-released audit of Island County government for the year 2004 has discovered problems in the county assessor’s office and the treasurer’s office.

The report says Island County’s property tax base does not accurately reflect the current valuation of property on Whidbey Island because of pending property tax adjustments.

And the state auditor also faulted Island County because the treasurer’s office has not completed timely bank and suspense account reconciliations.

The imperfect audit is the latest in the series of bad reviews by the state on Island County’s government operations.

Only one of the past five audits, in 2001, has been problem free. Audits conducted by the state in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003 have also reported “findings,” conditions that require county officials to take steps to stay within state laws or the county’s own policies and procedures.

In the audit of the 2004 year, the state said citizens in Island County and other government agencies expressed concerns about Island County’s property tax assessment process. The 2004 report was issued Sept. 23.

Different county departments offered different reasons for problems with the county’s property tax assessment system, the state report says.

“The lack of effective communication between the departments contributed to untimely property tax adjustments in the county,” the report noted.

Property tax information that was added to the county’s database was also not being reviewed to make sure it was adequate and complete, the audit says.

“The county has some properties where taxes were not being levied in a timely manner; incorrect amounts were levied; and/or adjustments to property valuation and taxes were not being completed in a timely manner,” the report said.

The audit also said the county has a backlog of more than 1,200 property tax adjustments that have not been added to the database. There is also a backlog of 300 parcels that have been split, merged or short-platted that have not been entered into the database.

Island County Assessor Tom Baenen said his office is not responsible for the backlog of 1,200 property tax adjustments.

And while parcel segregation work usually takes 60 to 90 days, some of that work is taking longer than usual to complete because an employee who had been doing the segregations has been assigned to update maps, he said.

“We are normally between 60 to 90 days out. At this point in time we are about 180 days out,” Baenen said.

“We are addressing that issue,” he said.

“We are current in this office, as far as adjustments are concerned,” Baenen added.

On the other problem noted in the audit, the state said the county needs to move quicker to reconcile bank and suspense accounts. Bank accounts should be reconciled within 30 days after the statement date, and the state auditor said 2005 bank statements had not been reconciled when the audit began in June.

County treasurer Linda Riffe told the state the county has hired an accountant and has added more hours for part-time workers, and those changes in the restructuring of the treasurer’s office will resolve the problems noted.

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