By Sarah Pridgeon
The issue of potentially unconstitutional actions taken by the Crook County Treasurer’s Office was not resolved at this week’s meeting of the County Commissioners due to the hectic nature of the holidays. According to Treasurer Mary Kuhl, there has not yet been an opportunity for her to meet with Paul Stille of Leo Riley & Associates to discuss the findings in the draft annual audit.
“I believe there is more to these transactions than meets the eye,” said Kuhl, explaining her desire to sit down with the auditor and go over the books in greater detail.
Stille informed the commissioners at December’s meeting that the office’s practice of extending credit and fees to pay for vehicle fees and sales tax may violate Article 16 Section 6 of the Wyoming Constitution, which prohibits any governmental entity from loaning or giving credit.
“During the course of our audit, we noted numerous instances where auto tags and plates and sales tax certificates were issued prior to the payment being received or, in some cases, the taxpayer was allowed to postdate a check or the office held the check to cover the required fee,” said the report, noting that the dollar amounts ranged from “minimal” to $19,000 and involved delays that, in extreme cases, lasted for several months.
“The bottom line is that, unless there’s a statute that authorizes the extension of credit in some fashion, you can’t do it,” said County Attorney Joe Baron.
Kuhl told the commissioners on Tuesday that, following the presentation of the audit, she had met with Baron to discuss the issue. She also invited Commissioners Kelly Dennis and Steve Stahla, she said, but neither were able to attend.
The next day, Kuhl continued, she spoke with Stille and requested some time to go over the transactions in more detail. Unfortunately, Stille had no available time until the second week of January.
Though no other offices were implicated in the audit, Kuhl took the opportunity to question whether the commissioners should take a look at the county’s practices as a whole to see whether credit is being extended in any other fashion.
“I’m not pointing fingers, I’m just saying that it might be a time when we need to look at how those processes happen in all offices,” she said.
As an example, she questioned whether it counts as credit for the County Clerk’s Office to keep a running total when making paper copies for customers. Clerk of District Court Tina Wood pointed out that the statute pertaining to that process may allow a customer to be billed and does not necessarily state that payment must be collected at the time of the copy being made.
County Clerk Linda Fritz added that she is happy to change the practice if the commissioners feel it necessary and pointed out that she extends this method of payment to all customers at the office with no preferential treatment. In response, Commissioner Steve Stahla stated that he has no issue with how any of the elected officials perform their jobs, as long as they do so constitutionally.
Commissioner Jeanne Whalen asked whether there are any plates still out in the county that remain unpaid. Kuhl responded that there is only one, which has been an issue for ten months and has already been turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have never had a cash issue that we did not clear up,” Kuhl said, telling the commissioners that some delays have lasted a couple of days, some a couple of months, but each one is always cleared.
The number of transactions that could count as extending credit varies from none in a month to around four in a single week, said Kuhl. In December, for example, there were three.
One of these was a fraudulent check, while another was thought to involve a customer’s son using the wrong check book to make the payment. As Kuhl has known the customer for years, she said, she was sure she could clear it up in one phone call.
“It’s not a tremendous amount for the number of transactions that we handle,” she added. Though it’s a pain, she said, it’s “part of the process”.
In December, Stille informed the commissioners that Kuhl will need to write a letter of response to the audit. Wood asked why it is necessary for this to be done in coordination with the auditors.
Kuhl responded that the auditors do not look at all the information included in a transaction during the audit process and said that she believes they should have a period of time to do so before the audit is finalized.
The commissioners contacted Paul Stille of Leo Riley & Associates to find out if a deadline exists to submit the audit to the state. The county has not previously found itself in the position of needing to submit an audit late because, as Wood pointed out, “This is the first time we’ve really had any significant findings”.
The commissioners decided not to take any action regarding the findings until full information is made available.
“We don’t have much information to respond to [yet],” said Dennis. “I’d like to see some definite things to respond to.”