ST. GEORGE — When it comes to how public money and property is accounted for, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office could improve, according to Utah state officials.
Acting on an anonymous complaint about the Sheriff’s Office’ Search and Rescue Division, the Office of the State Auditor reviewed several areas of concern relating to oversight of donations, vehicle purchases, use of gift cards and questionable use of county property.
The audit report, released earlier this week, examines records from August 2013 to August 2017. The report was initially submitted to Sheriff Cory Pulsipher and the County Commission, which oversees the Sheriff’s Office budget.
Inadequate oversight of donated funds
A significant portion of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue budget comes from donations, which state auditors found recorded in a fiduciary fund from which about $124,000 was spent on search and rescue operations in the four-year period examined by the audit.
Read more: Search and Rescue: Who pays for it?
According to the audit, as a legal entity of the county, the Search and Rescue Division’s budget should have been recorded in the county general fund to allow for appropriate budgetary, oversight and reporting requirements.
In a letter of response to the audit report, county officials said the funds were kept separate to ensure that donated money wasn’t mixed with money in the general fund. Going forward, the county said it will deposit funds according to state law but will continue to ensure the donations are used according to the donor’s intent.
Vehicle purchases and questionable use of county property
The report found that a vehicle was purchased and several others traded in without getting prior authorization from the County Commission. The transaction was approved by the commission after the fact, but the county said future transactions will only be allowed if the county has approved them first.
A person in a position of authority at the Sheriff’s Office was also found to have used county equipment for personal use on at least two occasions, which is a violation of county policy.
The audit recommended that the commission provide ethics training to all officers and employees, which county officials said they would implement.
Gift cards, meals – areas of high risk for waste and abuse
According to the report, about $6,500 in gift cards was purchased in a two-month period to be distributed to employees and search and rescue volunteers. Auditors found the practice to be an area of high potential for abuse, due to the large amount of cards on hand and a lack of safeguards in place to account for them.
The audit also found a lack of adequate record-keeping to verify who received gift cards, which meant they were also not reported as compensation to the IRS.
The Sheriff’s Office has since stopped using gift cards, according to the county’s letter, but it will implement recommended safeguards if gift cards are used again in the future.
The report stated that meal purchases for employees were not always adequately accounted for, suggesting that the county enact a strong meal policy that establishes dollar limits and requires supporting receipts.
The audit was not intended to bring punitive measures against the county.
“By its nature, this report focuses on exceptions, weaknesses, and problems,” Tyson Plastow, audit senior for the Office of the State Auditor, wrote in a letter to county officials. “This focus should not be understood to mean there are not also various strengths and accomplishments.”
“The County is grateful for the Report’s recommendations and assistance in helping the County safeguard taxpayer’s resources in an open, transparent, and ethical manner,” the county’s letter stated, which was signed by Pulsipher and Commissioners Zachary Renstrom, Dean Cox and Victor Iverson.
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