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Auditor’s Concerns Addressed

By Staff | Feb 4, 2010

A session between the Palo Alto County Conservation Board and the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors cleared the air on areas of long-standing concern Tuesday morning. The session came during the weekly meeting of the county supervisors at the Palo Alto County Courthouse.

Concerns raised over the past few years by state auditors regarding certain procedures and practices of the Conservation Board had prompted the Supervisors to ask for some changes in procedures from the Conservation Board. However, some questions still remained, prompting the opportunity for the two entities to meet face-to-face and clear the air, once and for all.

A primary concern of the State Auditor’s over many years had been that the County Auditor’s office was paying invoices submitted by Conservation without full documentation of the expense.

“What we are asking for is just a list of your bills,” Supervisor Chair Jerry Hofstad said to the Conservation group, which was comprised of board members Darin Adams, Gary Hughes and Tony Streit, along with Executive Director Steve Pitt and Conservation Officer Art Hampe. “We would just like to see what the bill is for and who the vendor is.”

Supervisor Ed Noonan offered a copy of a conservation invoice, which requested a payment of $24.93 to Hughes Pharmacy, and had a code number on it. “This doesn’t really tell us what you purchased at this business,” Noonan said.

“The code number on there tells us what line item in our budget it deals with,” Pitt said. “But I understand what you want, and that’s not a problem. You just want to see the vendor, a description of the item and cost, right?”

“Yes, that’s all,” Hofstad replied. “Just a list with that info, so we know where your money is going.”

Also addressed was a question over accumulated compensatory time for employees. A printout of comp time hours and value, as per pay scale, had one conservation board employee with over $30,000 worth of comp time on the books.

“In talking with the State Auditor, he told me that from now on, we need to keep track of the comp time on an annual basis, rather than on a accumulated basis,” Pitt told the supervisors.

Under the Conservation Board’s policy, employees can accumulate 1,040 hours of sick leave in a year, which could be converted to 160 hours of vacation time.

“I have over 1,500 hours of vacation time due me over time,” Pitt noted, “But I’m not asking to be paid for it.”

“That’s just the point,” Noonan replied. “If an employee with $30,000 worth of comp time quit and wanted to be paid for it, we’d have to pay it and we can’t afford that. This is something that needs to be watched. I realize you have a Conservation Board, but you have a governing board here also, not just the State Auditor, who you need to report to.”

“Well, the State Auditor is the one who talked to me about this,” Pitt answered.

Noonan questioned a budget line item in the current year’s budget of $21,000 that was designated for a pickup, but was subsequently shifted to other budget areas. “Why have a budget if you don’t spend the money for what it’s budgeted for? Do you as a Conservation Board have a problem with that?

Pitt answered by citing budgetary concerns. “I had to make adjustments after you folks cut the budget last year. I just can’t not pay for electricity, fuel and such. I have to pay our bills.

“Sometimes we all have to make adjustments,” noted board member Tony Striet. “You have to rob Peter to pay Paul once in awhile.

“Steve is not a reckless spender of tax monies,” added board member Darin Adams.

Adams then asked if there were any other areas of concern from the supervisors.

“I’d say I think your plans for recreational opportunities are good enough,” Hofstad spoke up. “I’d hope that you do not plan to take any more lands off the tax rolls. I’d like to see you just take care of what you have now.

“I think a lot of people out there get county conservation confused with the DNR,” Darin Adams said. “There’s a lot of DNR owned property in the county that people think we are responsible for. But, if someone comes to the conservation board and wants to donate land to us, we won’t turn it down.

“I’m probably the longest serving member on our board right now,” Tony Streit said, “And I really can’t remember a major purchase by us in the last 10 to 12 years. We’ve had a lot of donations of lands, but we really haven’t gone out and purchased much.

“We don’t want to go out and buy row crop land,” Pitt agreed, “We couldn’t afford it these days.

“There are a lot of entities like you folks and the DNR out there that do own lands in the county,” agreed Supervisor Keith Wirtz.

“It’s easy to see where people could be confused,” agreed Noonan as the meeting came to a close.