State

Cities short county $77K in fees

Stanislaus County workers are making fewer spending mistakes these days, auditors said Tuesday after detecting problems that wasted thousands of taxpayers' dollars in years past.

More troubling were lapses by cities within the county that cost the county $77,200 in lost development fees, according to the county's internal audit report.

In twice-yearly reports, auditors focus on whether county employees are following rules for using credit cards and claiming paycheck reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses typically associated with travel. Snapshots of various departments during periods going back as far as 2004 showed 1,130 foul-ups resulting in $15,000 worth of questionable transactions, the report said.

For example, Health Services workers received a combined $9,228 in 17 reimbursements that should have been rejected in 2006 and 2007, the report says.

Sheriff's employees booked hotels but didn't show up and didn't cancel reservations four times in 2008 and 2009, wasting $644, the report says. Sheriff's employees also charged the county for meals or lodging that appeared to be unnecessary before or after events, costing $1,444, the report says.

Also, three departments on 63 occasions from 2005 to 2008 paid full taxes at hotels where a simple request would have resulted in waived taxes, costing the county nearly $2,000, the report says. At fault were the Community Services Agency (38 bookings, wasting $1,070), the Sheriff's Department (16 bookings, wasting $672) and the Health Services Agency (nine bookings, wasting $241).

The District Attorney's office appears to have spent $402 in excessive charges for parking, car rentals and airfare from 2005 to 2008, with an additional $495 wasted by Sheriff's Department employees for similar reasons, the report says.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager and Sheriff Adam Christianson took office in July 2006.

Still, "significant improvement has been made," said Lauren Klein, chief deputy auditor-controller. "Overall, county agencies are in compliance with these policies."

While internal auditors typically scrutinize county workers, Tuesday's report also looked at whether some of the county's nine cities are collecting public facilities fees during construction processes and passing them to the county, as required. Turlock and Riverbank sent up no red flags, the report says.

But Modesto failed to charge fees three times from 2007 to 2009 when properties were "converted to another higher use," costing the county $35,283. Oakdale missed one such opportunity, shorting the county $5,883, according to the report.

Oakdale also used an incorrect category for 16 home permits, costing the county an additional $26,232, and erred in a commercial permit calculation for a $15,689 loss. In all, Oakdale's mistakes allowed $41,921 to slip through the cracks, the report says.

The county can't collect when mistakes are detected in such probes, Auditor-Controller Larry Haugh said. Some fault rests with the county, Klein said, because the county had no procedures for verifying fee payments and relies on 11-year-old software.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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