The Washington state Auditor’s Office has issued findings against the Island County Emergency Services Communication Center in both an accountability and a financial audit.
In the two reports, auditors noted errors in financial statements and violations of a state law requiring a competitive bidding process for major purchases. The audits covered the period of Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2021.
Island County Emergency Services Communication Center, or ICOM, is a 911 emergency dispatch center created through an interlocal agreement between Island County, the city of Oak Harbor, the town of Coupeville, the city of Langley, WhidbeyHealth and fire departments.
The audits identify the cause of the condition as “significant turnover in key positions.”
Island County Sheriff Rick Felici, the chairperson of the ICOM board, explained that the agency experienced staffing turmoil that had some impact on administration. The board fired the former director after she hired an employee’s husband for a top position and had an affair with him, he said. ICOM lost at least three key people in the kerfuffle.
Still, Felici said the problem had to do with a misunderstanding of esoteric rules of accounting and bidding that staff may not have known anyway. He stressed that no money was lost or misappropriated.
The accountability audit faults ICOM for not using a formal bidding process required by law when procuring goods and services over a certain threshold. Felici said ICOM leadership didn’t realize that entities created through interlocal agreements have to abide by the most restrictive rules affecting the entities that are part of the agreement. In this case, towns have the most restrictive rules, requiring competitive bidding for over $7,500 worth of goods or services.
Nonetheless, the purchases identified by auditors were far beyond that threshold. The audit states that ICOM spent $730,000 for new console equipment, $23,000 for service wall equipment and $12,000 for communications tower equipment, all purchased without a competitive bidding process.
The law allows an exception to the rule for items only available from a single vendor. Felici said the exception could have applied to the purchases, but that it wasn’t properly documented.
The effect of the condition, the audit states, is that ICOM cannot show it received the most competitive prices.
In the financial audit, the state auditors found that the agency did not have adequate internal controls ensuring accurate reporting of financial statements. The audit report notes technical problems with accounting, but also errors in the annual report submitted for the audit. The audit explains several errors that resulted in significant overstatements and understatements of expenditures and revenues.
In ICOM’s response, it confirms its commitment to improving its bidding process, updating its policy and improving accounting accuracy through continuing education.