State audit shows tip of iceberg

Friday, December 28, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett says the latest audit of county finances is "boring," but parts of the 170-page report might be described as the tip of the iceberg.

"Certain employees of the school department allegedly received supplemental funds," the audit states. "The state Comptroller's Division of Investigations is currently reviewing this matter and their findings, if any, will be reported in subsequent communications."

The prospect of subsequent communications from state auditors was revealed in June, when Marshall County High School football coach Tom Turchetta's work contract was not renewed.

Liggett declined to comment on audit statements about the school system. Almost all aspects of the audit related to county administration have been resolved.

However, Schools Director Jackie Abernathy reviewed the school system's budget last spring, spoke with Turchetta, and he subsequently reported that he and his coaching staff had been paid by a field maintenance agreement offered as part of his employment, and that offer was twice confirmed by a former school system director as well as the payroll clerk at the time, according to a news report in late June.

"To my knowledge, we're still not to comment on that," School Board Chairman Mike Keny said when asked about the audit and its cryptic sentences indicating there might be subsequent communications. "We've been told we can't talk, so we won't talk."

School board discussion has indicated that supplemental pay to faculty should not come from property and/or building maintenance and operating funds.

Dollar amounts have not been revealed, but the new audit reports some school expenditures exceeded appropriations as approved by county commissioners. The largest overspending was $55,540 for plant maintenance. Other seemingly related categories with overspending were listed as regular instruction at $44,456; and plant operation at $34,752. The sum of those three, $134,746, is dwarfed by the total assets of the school system - nearly $56.16 million.

Elsewhere in the new audit, Comptroller Justin Wilson has again recommended adoption of a central system of accounting, budgeting and purchasing. Except for school funds, the county budget office manages all county money. Teachers and their coworkers outnumber the rest of the county's employees. The employee groups have separate payroll offices.

"The absence of a central system of accounting ... has been a management decision by the county commission, resulting in decentralization and some duplication of effort," auditors stated.

Keny commented on what amounts to blending the school system's budget office into the county budget office.

"That's been out there for three to four years and they keep talking about it," Keny said. "I'm not in favor of it. I've always felt it's not a good idea from a school system's perspective... aunless someone comes up and convinces me."

Keny and Liggett agree there are two points of view on centralized accounting and, furthermore, its implementation is up to the commissioners.

"Some who have it love it, and some hate it," Liggett said. "It's only as good as the people who operate it."