Friday, July 22, 2022

State Controller: Investigation Found Short Staffing, Lack of Training, Contributed to Delinquent Financial Filings

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2022 at 10:14 AM

The California State Controller issued its long-awaited report from its months-long investigation into Humboldt County's highly publicized fiscal accounting and reporting problems this morning.

The report spans 23 pages, including responses from the county Auditor-Controller's Office and the County Administrative Office. A press release from the SCO identifies some key findings, including that the county does not perform regular  bank reconciliations, that a backlog in journal entries have contributed mightily to the county's failures to file timely financial statements and that insufficient staffing and training in the Auditor-Controller's Office have contributed to the office's failure to fulfill its duties and responsibilities.

The SCO launched its investigation into the county's fiscal controls after the county failed to file statutorily mandated end-of-year financial records with the state, beginning with the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The delinquent filings — which county officials have said leave the county unable to responsibly budget for 2022-2023, and which the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury found have led to the loss in millions of dollars in county funds, while putting more in jeopardy — became a central focus on the recent election, which saw incumbent Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez defeated by challenger Cheryl Dillingham, who took 70 percent of the vote.

See the SCO's full press release below and the full report here, and check back for a more thorough story on the report and its findings.

California Controller Finds Failure to Reconcile Accounts and
Record Journal Entries Hampers Humboldt County Reporting

Understaffing and Insufficient Training Compound Backlog and Delays

SACRAMENTO – State Controller Betty T. Yee today published her team’s detailed review of Humboldt County’s internal financial controls, which found a backlog of journal entries and lack of bank reconciliations contributed to the county’s inability to complete timely financial reports — compounded by insufficient staffing, inadequate training, and a lack of updated policies and procedures.

Established in 1853, Humboldt County covers more than 4,000 square miles of California’s North Coast and had a population of more than 136,000 at the last census. Among the State Controller’s most significant findings:

· The county does not reconcile its bank balances and the county treasurer’s accounting records, nor does it reconcile cash and investment accounts pursuant to GC 26905. Timely reconciliations allow an entity to ensure cash transactions have been recorded properly, assist in monitoring cash flows, and detect errors and fraud.

· The county amassed a backlog of journal entries required to finalize financial statements. In addition to delaying reports, the backlog rendered county accounting data unreliable. For example, in September and October 2021, Auditor-Controller’s Office (ACO) staff posted journal entries totaling $106 million to the FY 2019-20 general ledger. As a result, county management may have made financial decisions based on outdated data throughout FY 2019-20.

· Insufficient staffing has kept ACO from fulfilling its duties and responsibilities. With only 13 full-time positions, the fiscal team has had an average of three vacancies throughout the review period, even as a realignment of payroll functions to ACO increased its workload.

The report emphasized that an organization’s commitment to competence is a key principle of an effective internal control system. While staff interviewed during the review expressed eagerness to successfully complete their assigned duties, they felt sufficient training had not been provided. Additionally, the ACO Department Policy & Procedure Manual has not been updated since 2012 and does not reflect current processes.

The report includes county responses to SCO findings and SCO recommendations for improvement. Controller Yee has requested a progress update in six months.

With a commitment to government transparency and accountability, Controller Yee and her Audits team have identified more than $7.25 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse of public funds since January 2015.

As the chief fiscal officer of California, Controller Yee is responsible for accountability and disbursement of the state’s financial resources. The Controller has independent auditing authority over government agencies that spend state funds. She is a member of numerous financing authorities, and fiscal and financial oversight entities including the Franchise Tax Board. She also serves on the boards for the nation’s two largest public pension funds. Elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018, Controller Yee is the tenth woman elected to a statewide office in California’s history. Follow the Controller on Twitter at @CAController and on Facebook at California State Controller’s Office.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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