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December 15, 2018
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Columbia County Judge Larry Atkinson (middle), speaks Monday during the county’s monthly Quorum Court meeting at the Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia. Also pictured are County Attorney Rebecca Jones (left) and Interim County Clerk Diane Ferguson.

Columbia County Judge Larry Atkinson (middle), speaks Monday during the county’s monthly Quorum Court meeting at the Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia. Also pictured are County Attorney Rebecca Jones (left) and Interim County Clerk Diane Ferguson.

Quorum Court discusses audit, passes ordinance

By J.D. BAILEY, Banner-News
This article was published December 5, 2018 at 6:01 a.m.

In a relatively brief regular monthly meeting held Monday, the Columbia County Quorum court passed one ordinance transferring funds within budgets, and discussed the county’s 2017 audit findings.

According to the audit, five departments were cited in last year’s state legislative audit. They are listed below, along with the auditor’s assessments:

County Judge and County Clerk

The Quorum Court adopted Columbia County Ordinance no. 96-3 (February 5, 1996) stating that a justice of the peace (JP) should be compensated in accordance Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1205, which provides for per diem compensation for JPs attending any quorum court meeting at an amount set by an ordinance. Ordinance no. 96-3 also states that the maximum annual compensation payable to any JP by virtue of per diem shall be $2,400.

The County has periodically increased the per diem amount paid to JPs through the adoption of various appropriation ordinances, resulting in the 2017 per diem amount being $286 per meeting, with a maximum annual compensation of $3,434.

We question whether Ordinance no. 96-3 may be amended with subsequent appropriation ordinances in light of Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14- 905(b)(B)(2), which states, “No county ordinance shall be revised or amended, or the provisions thereof extended or conferred, by reference to its title only, but so much thereof as is revised, amended, extended, or conferred shall be reenacted and published at length.”

Ordinance no. 96-3 was not “reenacted and published at length” by the 2017 appropriation ordinance. In addition, the County used the total appropriation amount for JP per diem ($37,773), divided it by the number of JPs (11), and then divided the total annual JP per diem ($3,434) by 12 to determine equal monthly payments of $286 per JP. This method of calculating payment appears to conflict with Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1205 and Op. Att’y Gen. no. 88-42.

We recommend that the county obtain legal counsel to resolve this matter.

•••

This matter has been in discussion amongst the court and its legal rep, County Attorney Rebecca Jones, for months and has seemingly been resolved.

“We have already done a little bit of adjustments that would satisfy legislative audit for this year which we were expending those monies,” she said. “As you recall, at our budgeting meeting, we went through the numbers and the payments to be approved for the payment of the JPs and that will all be set forth in an ordinance that we will need to pass in January.”

The ordinance could be passed as early Jan. 7, at the Quorum Court’s regular monthly meeting.

“Long story short, it’s handled and taken care of and legislative audit is happy,” Jones added.

County Judge and Circuit Clerk

Audit: The County paid a vendor $26,029 in advance for software service and support, in apparent conflict with Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1102, which states, in part, “Before approving any voucher for the payment of county funds, the county judge shall determine that the goods or services for which expenditure is to be made have been rendered and the payment thereof has been incurred in a lawful manner and is owed by the county.”

•••

It was stated Monday by County Judge Larry Atkinson that this issue has been addressed and the proper response letter already sent to the state.

“Our letter stated that we would no longer do that,” he said. “That was a grant that the county got through the Arkansas Associations of Counties (AAC). It was county money — but it was grant money. If we didn’t pay that advance, we lost those funds.”

Atkinson said he was unaware of any such intricacies in state code and that he apologized to the court letting it happen.

“I wasn’t aware,” he added. “I apologize.”

Sheriff

Audit: The ending balance in the Bond and Fine account was not identified to receipts issued but not yet adjudicated, as required by Ark. Code Ann. § 16-10-207. The unidentified balance as of December 31, 2017, was $67,156.

•••

No representative from the Sheriff’s Office spoke at Monday’s meeting to respond the court. Atkinson noted that all indications point to the sheriff having already responded properly to the state.

“He has responded to it,” the judge said. “He has to [in order for the audit notification to be issued to the court].”

Circuit Clerk

Audit: The Circuit Clerk’s Trust Account ledger again was not properly maintained, as required by Ark. Code Ann. § 14-25-116. Receipts totaling $11,030 and checks totaling $13,626 were not recorded or were recorded in error. Also, the ending reconciled bank balance exceeded the ending Trust Account ledger balance by $95,448.

Bank accounts were not properly prepared for all accounts, as required by Ark. Code Ann. § 14-25-107.

The Circuit Clerk is holding abandoned property consisting of outstanding checks totaling $24,668. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 18-28-207 – 18-28-208 require the abandoned property be reported and delivered to the Auditor of the State.

This report is intended solely for the information and use of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, local County government, state executive and oversight management, and other parties as required by Arkansas Code, and is not intended to be and should not be used by anyone other than these specified parties. However, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 10-4-417, all reports presented to the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee are matters of public record and distribution is not limited.

•••

Circuit Clerk Phyllis Disotell was not present at Monday’s meeting. Circuit Clerk-Elect Angela Keith, who was said to have only learned of the issues earlier that day, said the bank account questioning had already been addressed and that the proper letter sent to the state.

“We’ll get with the circuit clerk before she leaves office and make sure that is corrected,” said JP Annette Pate.

The outstanding checks were stated to be unclaimed oil and gas interest payouts.

“That’s part of the unclaimed property act,” said Columbia County Treasurer Selina Blair. “If you have checks that you have sent out and they are never cashed, you have a responsibility to get those checks to the rightful owners, and I think you have a three-year window.”

If the checks are not eventually cashed, Blair added, the funds are to be turned over to the state auditor, where they are then added to the state’s unclaimed property list.

“It’s not that any money is missing,” said Atkinson. “It’s probably just money that time has run out on it and it should have been sent to the state.”

In a final piece of business Monday, the quorum court voted unanimously to amend county budget funds.

Within the circuit clerk’s fund, a total of $6,500 was transferred for professional services, while $31,000 was transferred from the SAYS account to the County Building account. A total of $355.34 was also transferred within the jail fund for travel.

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