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County gets approval and advice from independent auditor

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

Plumas County doesn’t have as much money as it used to. But at least it’s doing a good job keeping track of it.

An independent auditor gave the county passing grades for accounting after reviewing the books for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2011.

“(The audit) does not (determine) how good the county’s financial position is or how bad it is,” said auditor Norm Newell of Smith & Newell CPAs. “It just says all the information in these financial statements are accurate. And you can make your decision from there.”

The numbers spoke for themselves.

The county’s $22 million in revenue was almost $2 million less than the previous year.

And Newell confirmed the county’s equity declined by about $735,000.

Newell provided a reminder to the Board of Supervisors of something they are already very aware of: The county is low on cash.

He said the county’s “unassigned fund balance” — which is basically its pocket money — should be about $3.7 million to be considered a healthy safety net. But the fund contains just $400,000.

“If there is another $735,000 decline, that would put the $400,000 in a deficit position,” Newell said. “I just want to bring that to the board’s attention.”

Newell also warned the supervisors about the importance of paying the county’s bills on time. Nine percent of vendor payments were more than 30 days late.

“That’s not a good thing,” Newell said. “It’s happened in two other counties where vendors have stopped working with the county because they won’t get paid fast enough. It’s just something to be aware of.”

Supervisor Lori Simpson asked Newell if the board could have a list of the offending county departments.

County Auditor Shawn Montgomery, who assisted Newell during the presentation, said she didn’t want to name names right now.

“If it’s the same departments, Smith & Newell might decide to name the departments,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t want it to become an issue until it looks like it’s a department not following through like they should.”

Montgomery said the late payments usually come from the larger county departments “because they have so much going on.”

Newell said the county should keep better track of the sheriff inmate welfare fund.

“That’s where the sheriff has to keep track of monies generated for the welfare of the inmates,” Newell said. “They need to do a reconciliation at the end of each month and reconcile that thing.

“It’s not a big deal. But it’s just something that needs to be done.”

Newell also pointed out that three county employees didn’t pay back money the county advanced them for travel expenses within the required 45 days.

He added that three employees took vacation days that they hadn’t yet earned.

And he said the county could face “a significant liability” for not having insurance to cover its landfill. He recommended the county pay for the insurance.

Newell emphasized that he was pointing out things just to make sure the county was aware of them. In general, he said he didn’t find any serious issues.

“This is one of the better counties to work with,” he said.

Simpson and outgoing Public Health Director Mimi Hall raised a question about the county’s efficiency. They asked Newell if it mattered what method the county used to track grant money.

Hall has been critical of the county’s method, which she said requires extra time and work (a personnel action form) for the human resources department.

“I’ve been told by auditors before that ‘we don’t dictate how you track, but the system that you use must be reasonable for us to look at,’” Hall said.

“Do you at Smith & Newell, or does the state or does the government, require a personnel action to allocate a person to a certain department?” Hall asked. “Do you require a human resource action to be able to track where the money came from and what personnel it’s paying for?”

“We do not,” Newell said.

After hearing Newell’s presentation, the supervisors voted unanimously to accept the audited financial report.


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