County officials were pleased overall with the results of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s audit of county government for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, accepted by the county commission last Tuesday, June 26.
Most findings from previous years have been corrected and the audit, despite a few findings, was largely a clean one.
Auditors did return three findings, all of them related to the circuit, general sessions and juvenile courts clerk operations.
“We have come a long way and now this is the only department in the county with findings,” said County Mayor Gary Cordell.
Those findings were summarized in the audit report as follows: execution docket trial balances were not prepared for circuit, general sessions and juvenile courts; the computer software application did not generate a report of outside direct payments; and the office did not review its audit software logs.
According to the audit, these findings have occurred in previous years but have not been corrected. All three are related to software reporting issues and do not point to any misuse of funds.
Circuit Court Clerk Heather Duncan explained the issues pertained to the software they use to file court records – it is not the state recommended website. In 2013, the Circuit Court Clerk’s office contracting its software with ICON instead of the state vendor, saved the county more than $150,000, Duncan added.
“The state system [TNCIS] was very costly and unable to provide many of the functions needed by our local court system,” she said. “In addition, the state has increased their annual computer maintenance fees in excess of 7 percent per year since then. We knew Coffee County could not afford that kind of contract.”
The Circuit Court Clerk’s office contracted with ICON at a significantly lower cost and has since seen no increase in computer maintenance fees, according to Duncan.
“Our software vendor has worked diligently with county audit to ensure all reporting was in the format the county auditors could understand, since our system is different from the state system they are accustomed to auditing,” she said.
All other previous audit findings related to county operations were corrected.
Execution docket trial balances
Regarding the execution docket trial balances, the audit found the circuit, general sessions and juvenile courts clerk had presented undisbursed receipt reports for execution docket trial balances. However, those reports did not reconcile with general ledger accounts.
According to the audit, the clerk had unidentified balances of $5,494, $58,988 and $11, in circuit, general sessions and juvenile courts, respectively. Therefore, the auditors were unable to determine whether the clerk had complied with the Unclaimed Property Act. That statute provides that any funds held by the courts for one year and unclaimed by the owner are considered abandoned. Those abandoned funds are then to be reported and paid to the state Treasurer’s Office.
According to Duncan, her office did comply with the act by reporting and paying the abandoned funds to the state Treasurer’s Office. The office reconciles the bank statement for each court to the general ledger for each court every month. The bank statements and general ledger always reconcile without issue, showing that the monies are accounted for; however, the general ledger and the docket trial balances have had discrepancies due to the computer conversion to ICON software.
Duncan added the office is working with ICON representatives to solve the issue.
The audit also found the computer software application allowed users to generate receipts were difficult to read due to formatting problems. These receipts are known as outside direct payments because the funds are paid directly to the appropriate party. Because this process could be used improperly, a report of these receipts should have been available for review for the entire fiscal year. The county’s case, the report was not available until March and was, according to the audit, difficult to read due to formatting issues.
The audit recommended that management contact the software vendor to reformat the report for appropriate review. Management agreed with the finding, noting it has been reviewed as recommended since the March report became available.
Review of audit logs
The final finding noted that the software application “did not consistently generate a log that displayed changes and deletions made by users.”
When generated correctly, the audit said these logs provide the only audit trail of changes, but because management did not have “proper review procedures” in place, they were not aware that the logs were not functioning correctly until a review of the logs began in June 2017.
Management agreed with the finding, noting the software did not produce functioning audit logs until June 2017. However, Duncan disagreed with the notation that management was not aware the logs had not been functioning correctly.
Duncan said management had made regular attempts throughout the fiscal year to produce the audit log for review, but due to system formats, the log “could not be produced in a clear, concise, reviewable manner.” As a result, management contacted the software vender regularly throughout the year until the issue was corrected in June 2017.
Auditors countered, noting that when documentation of review was requested in December 2016, the official with whom they spoke was not aware of the log’s operational status.
Elena Cawley can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.