County books get thumbs up from state
By Emily Bialkowski
Houston County received a big thumbs up from the state auditor’s office during the Oct. 16 board meeting.
Carla Blahnik gave a short presentation detailing the 2011 audit. She said Houston County received the highest rating offered by the state for both record keeping and budgeting.
“You did receive the highest and best opinion you can get, and just wanted to point that out and congratulate you,” Blahnik said.
Blahnik went over charts that tracked the county’s net assets, capital assets, revenues and expenditures for governmental funds and other accounting details.
She pointed out a few anomalies that were created as a result of the 2007 floods and also mentioned that revenue from taxes has steadily increased, intergovernmental revenue has fluctuated, which is typical, and investment income has trended down, which is also typical.
Blahnik said the state recommends counties keep no less than five months of expenditures in the fund balance, or 35 to 50 percent of yearly revenue.
“You’ll see Houston County is at five months so you’re at a good level there,” Blahnik said.
In terms of recommendations to improve operations, Blahnik suggested the following:
• Establish and have control processes over financial statement processing.
• Create information technology (IT) policies and procedures relating to security, risk assessment, email encryption, employee termination and related IT areas of risk.
Blahnik elaborated on that item saying, “During our review of user access we found the finance director performs IT security functions. We find that incompatible with her duties because she has full access.”
• And finally, create a disaster recovery plan for financial related issues.
The presentation was informational in nature, and no action was taken.
County Recorder Beverly Bauer gave an impromptu presentation on a scam a Houston County taxpayer brought to her attention.
Bauer said the taxpayer received an official looking letter from a company offering copies of land titles (deeds).
“The company states if you need a copy of your deed they will give you a copy for $83,” Bauer said.
The questionable practice relates to the fact that her office can provide you certified documentation for just $2 per page.
Bauer said, “These companies can’t certify the document. I just want to tell you – that if a taxpayer comes to you – it is a scam.”
Bauer added that the taxpayer who brought it to her attention felt the language in the letter was quite strong. “She thought this was something she had to do,” Bauer said.
Meth lab mitigation for the property at 1017 Sunrise Lane will end up costing the county between $8,300 to $8,500, Public Health Director Deb Rock told the county board. Testing for asbestos, abating the asbestos, moving the trailer home and disposing of the home all come with hefty price tags, she said, adding that 11 county departments have touched the case in some shape or form since the original arrests took place in early July.
If you add in the city of Caledonia’s expense, resolving the issue cost over $10,000.
“When we go through budgets you’re not even close to being prepared for things like this here,” Environmental Services Director Rick Frank said, adding, “I think all departments have absorbed some of it already to some extent.”
“It’s hard to pin it on one department,” agreed Commissioner Tom Bjerke.
The board voted to go into closed session for the same reason it has at the two previous meetings: threatened litigation. Upon returning into open session County Attorney Jamie Hammell said there was no action on the item and the time was spent updating the board on “where this stands.”
A claim has not yet been filed, Hammell said.
The board voted to go into closed session a second time to address labor negotiations with Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger. No action was taken on the matter upon returning into open session.
In final business, Arrick-Kruger announced the retirement of a long-time jailer/dispatcher – Sandy Feuerhelm – and requested the board consider filling the halftime position.
Because the county recently underwent an employee search to fill the 67 day roster, Arrick-Kruger suggested calling back the finalists from that round of interviews. “This will be a savings to the county,” she said.
But the board was reluctant to move forward on the matter without further information about the necessity of the position.
Arrick-Kruger agreed to come back with solid numbers and information. The Minnesota Department of Corrections does have rules stipulating the number of employees on duty at inmate facilities.
In a related matter, it was reported that the jail is currently housing 12 inmates. Over the weekend that number typically spikes to 17.