published Friday, November 8th, 2013

Sequatchie County audit lists 17 findings

Sequatchie County Financial Report
Sequatchie County Financial Report

State auditors tallied 17 findings in a review of financial statements of Sequatchie County, Tenn., for the year ended June 30, including improper money transfers and disbursals and 152 "missing" inmate phone cards.

Most of the findings were in the county executive's office. One finding in the sheriff's office was turned over to the district attorney's office.

Financial records in County Executive Keith Cartwright's office -- and in the highway supervisor's office -- had to undergo material adjustments for proper presentation and had deficiencies in budget operations or fund balance, according to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's Annual Financial Report on Sequatchie County for the Year Ended June 30, 2013.

The county's previous year's fund balance was misstated too high by more than $125,000. Funds had been transferred from the general fund to the solid waste/sanitation fund without County Commission approval, and requests for reimbursement on a construction grant were not submitted in a timely manner, auditors found.

Auditors also issued a finding that capital projects funds were not disbursed according to commission resolutions, and some credit card purchases were not properly documented. Auditors noted that county constables were allowed to buy fuel for their private vehicles using the county's tax-exempt status, then reimburse the county each month. Fuel cards since have been retrieved from the constables, according to Cartwright's response in the report.

Cartwright said this week that he, the county's audit committee and commissioners felt the report was a "good audit," despite the number of findings.

"Six of the findings are related to the East Valley Water Project ... that money went in and out of the wrong account," Cartwright said. "No monies are missing; there's no fraud. It's just a procedural accounting error."

Part of the problem was that the county had more than one project going at once -- unusual for Sequatchie.

He said officials believe most findings "can be easily fixed clerically."

Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock said a machine was at fault in the audit's finding that 152 inmate phone cards worth $1,250 went missing.

The discovery first triggered an investigation but officials found out the phone card machine was dispensing multiple cards on a single transaction, Hitchcock said.

"You put your money in for a $10 card and sometimes it would give you one, sometimes it would give you four," he said. Phone card company officials explained how to reset the machine, but the sheriff quit using it instead.

"Right now, we're selling them out of a locked safe," he said.

The sheriff's secretary now sells a card, writes a receipt in a ledger book and turns over the receipt to another official who lists the receipt in another ledger, completing the record-keeping process, he said.

The phone card company has agreed to replace the missing cards, Hitchcock said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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