Audit finds errors cost sheriff’s office $170k in lost grants

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

CSloppy bookkeeping cost the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office more than $170,000 worth of grant funding, which the county is now trying to recover, a newly released audit says.

The money is part of an assortment of accounting problems state auditors found in the sheriff’s office, all revolving around federal grants used to pay for new officers, equipment and drug enforcement efforts.

The audit also mentioned $7,140 was missing from the evidence room, but steps have been taken to correct that problem.

County officials are working to remedy the accounting missteps by changing one staff position from a clerical post to a financial analyst in the proposed 2001 budget, and by offering assistance from the county’s finance department.

Sheriff Rick Bart said the problems arose as his department used federal grants to put more officers on the street but didn’t increase staff to manage funding.

"As we’ve added staff and gone through all these cop grants, we’ve maintained our support staff at the same level, and it’s caught up with us," Bart said.

The county has asked the federal government if the department can still collect money it could have been reimbursed for earlier, Bart said. That includes roughly $126,000 lost when the office failed to seek appropriate reimbursements for spending by cities and officers, the audit says. Another $51,000 for equipment installation could have been recouped as well.

"We think they’ll cooperate with us," Bart said of the U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the program.

The errors appear as Bart lobbies the county council for a funding boost. The sheriff has argued that he lacks the money to train officers, maintain specialty teams such as a riot-control unit, and still put enough deputies on the street. He has said the additional two officers in the budget proposed by County Executive Bob Drewel is inadequate.

Bart said he didn’t think the audit would hurt those efforts. He noted the financial analyst position will likely be approved.

The audit also found the sheriff’s office had taken steps to improve control of drugs and money brought into the evidence room — but not before the potential loss of $7,140 from an evidence room.

Auditors reported that the money, related to a case, was discovered missing from evidence in 1999. The discovery sparked an investigation by the sheriff’s office and Everett Police Department, which ended with the agencies concluding no person could be blamed, according to the report.

Bart said the money could have been misplaced in the jam-packed evidence rooms, or it could have been returned to someone or destroyed and the paperwork simply wasn’t completed.

The money’s absence was discovered when someone assigned to organize the evidence found documents indicating the money should have been there, he said.

"To me it’s incredible that you can’t find the money," he said.

Bart said he did not suspect theft by an employee.

"My employees work very hard, and I trust them. I think it’s a paperwork shuffle of some kind."

Everett spokesman Boyd Bryant said he was unable to reach officers involved in the investigation.

The only other problem singled out in the audit was discrepancies between the county finance department’s accounting information, and the cash book maintained by the treasurer’s office.

Auditors found a $1.3 million discrepancy between the two, something that could have resulted from timing differences in how revenues are reported, or problems with computer connections between the two offices, according to the report. The report noted such differences left the county vulnerable to misappropriation of money.

County finance director Dan Clements said the problem could be traced to a 1999 overhaul of the computer system in the treasurer’s office and trouble getting it to communicate properly with his department’s computers.

Rachel Solemsaas, the finance department’s controller, said a check found no evidence that the accounting imbalance was a result of theft.

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