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$15M mistake in county books being corrected: Treasurer says spreadsheet error had no financial impact [Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.]
[November 21, 2009]

$15M mistake in county books being corrected: Treasurer says spreadsheet error had no financial impact [Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.]

(Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 21--A $15 million discrepancy in the county's books has been fixed, according to Monroe County Treasurer Cathy Smith.

Earlier this month, Smith told the county council the deviation was a bookkeeping error that would be rectified before the county paid out any money to taxing entities. On Friday morning, her office submitted corrected financial reports from July, August and September to the county commissioners. The two commissioners in attendance didn't accept the documents, however, saying they wanted to more fully understand the issue by talking with Smith.

"I think it's fine. I think the problem has been corrected," Commissioner Mark Stoops said Friday. "We just haven't had a chance to go over it with the treasurer and understand exactly what's been done." After all three commissioners had a chance to meet and talk about the issue, Commissioner Iris Kiesling said, she would expect the county officials would then accept the reports.

The financial discrepancy came to light earlier this month during a county council work session. At that time, Smith described it as a reporting error that happened when two employees switched jobs, after which the new employee in her office began using a different spreadsheet that contained a broken data link. A single entry error compounded over the past few months to make the apparent discrepancy larger, she said at the time, eventually leaving the county's books showing $15 million more than the bank said it had.

Essentially, Smith explained, the county's taxation dollars sit "outside" the balance sheets until settlement -- that's the twice-a-year paychecks the county distributes to units that collect taxes -- is made. Because of that, she said, the apparent difference in cash didn't affect the county's bottom line because settlement hasn't happened yet. It's expected in December.

The county's financial software representative had suggested using the new spreadsheet, Smith said, and she'd complied.

"It was a bad recommendation," she said Friday, adding that representative doesn't work for the company anymore.

The former treasurer's office employee -- who now works in the auditor's office -- was also able to return to help the office straighten out the financial documents, Smith said. She lauded Auditor Amy Gerstman for being willing to lend the employee and the employee for helping out.

Staffers could have fixed the problem by hand but wanted to wait until the spreadsheet could be adjusted to ensure the problem was solved long-term, Smith said.

"All's well that ends well, I guess," Smith said Friday. "I just wish it hadn't happened." Smith, who took office in January, served as chief deputy and then as financial director under former county Auditor Sandy Newmann.

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