Luzerne County Controller Michelle Bednar briefed the county council on her audit work last week during an annual report required by the county’s home rule charter.
The office completed 20 audits last year, said Bednar, who took office in January 2014.
Six audits uncovered no findings, and several resulted in recommendations to adjust protocol, she said.
An audit of the county’s 2015 vehicle inventory found two insured vehicles that were no longer in service.
The administration’s response said vehicles can’t be removed from county insurance until they are sold due to liability concerns. The administration agreed to review vehicle usage annually and auction those that are out of service.
The office also analyzed the roster of property owners who received homestead tax breaks and developed a list of potential property owners wrongly receiving breaks beyond the allowable single primary residence. The assessor’s office is reviewing that list and plans to provide a plan for further action in May.
Bednar’s plans for 2016 audits include a review of county mail room department billing, payouts to former employees, Children and Youth payments and budget/finance protocol.
The annual report and audits are posted on the controller’s section of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org.
Bednar stressed the structure of the office changed with home rule’s implementation in January 2012 because county employees who process payment requests were relocated to budget/finance.
Home rule eliminated the controller’s power to stop outgoing payments.
“Keep in mind, without accounts payable in the controller’s office, we can only see what has been paid for after the fact,” Bednar wrote in the report.
Councilwoman Kathy Dobash suggested her colleagues consider a home rule charter amendment ballot question requiring the controller’s review of all outgoing payments and possibly the controller’s signature on checks.
Bednar said she would support new protocol allowing her office to provide a “second set of eyes” before payments are issued but does not believe the controller must have signature power.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher said requiring the controller’s participation in check signing could compromise the office’s independent review process.
Several council members suggested audits, such as a review of grants supplied by the county. The council has no authority to require particular controller audits, but Bednar said she will consider the feedback.
Councilwoman Eileen Sorokas asked Bednar if she has received tips from employees and the public through the office’s anonymous hotline.
Bednar said tips have dropped off, which she attributed to a lack of awareness.
The “Citizen and Employee Suggestion and Idea Line” can be accessed at 570-830-5154 or CESIL@luzernecounty.org.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.