Fiscal problems linked to jail construction

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 2004

EUTAW – At odds with a county commissioner, Greene County Administrator Mattie Atkins believes there’s more to the county’s financial woes than just stolen funds.

An investigation by state and federal agencies into a theft of funds from the county’s payroll account is underway. According Commission Chairman Chip Beeker, someone managed to get the county’s account information and begin drafting credit card payments from the account.

County employees are not the target of the investigation, Beeker and Atkins said.

Beeker alleged in The Times last week that sloppy bookkeeping and unreconciled checking accounts led to some payroll checks bouncing, but Atkins said the theft of funds caused the overdrafts.

“The theft caused the checks to bounce,” she said.

Now, a new account has been established and Atkins said the use of on-line statements helps her keep a daily tab on the county’s funds.

“I check [the accounts] almost every day,” she said.

But where Beeker paints a picture of unkept records, Atkins contends the county’s financial woes are tied ultimately to the construction of the county’s jail and the bond issue that paid off the remaining debt on a courthouse renovation and the new jail.

“The quest to build the Greene County Jail in 2002 was a large part of the county’s present financial problem,” Atkins said in a letter to the editor.

She said funds from the Greene County Racing Commission – about $50,000 per year – were to be used in conjunction with a special court fee to repay the $4.59 million bond issue.

“The final step wasn’t completed,” she said.

That “final step” was once the Legislature had authorized the concept of a fee for such a purpose, the Legislature had to act a second time to set the amount of the fee – $50.

“It was on us to go back to the Legislature,” she said. “We didn’t get that done in time for it to be included in the bond.”

That caused, she said, the county to pledge its oil trust fund monies, currently about $80,000 per year, and its three-mill road and bridge revenue toward the repayment of the bond.

In turn, that loss of revenue to the county’s general fund has created a slight deficit the county intended on covering with excess bond payment funds, about $270,000 after the bond’s escrow account obligations have been fulfilled.

Under terms of the bond issue, $633,000 must be in the account, representing two years worth of payments which are made twice annually.

Beeker said he expected to run short in the budget commissioners passed this month as well.

“It’s still very tough,” Atkins said, ” we have to watch everything carefully.”

As for the bank accounts being reconciled, Atkins said the accounts were up to date and state examiners conducted compliance audits in the county, and a private CPA firm was handling the financial audits.

“I have asked the commission for more help to hire a bookkeeper, but so far they have not done so,” she said.

Atkins shares duties with a payroll clerk and an accounts payable clerk.