State's annual assessment tags county, LCUB for accounting issues

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

A recent audit report released from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury office revealed two findings each in Lenoir City and Loudon County bookkeeping practices.

After the county achieved a clean audit with no findings in 2009, auditors reported one finding in 2010 and one in 2011. This is the first time in three years that the state revealed a finding in the accounts and budgets department.

According to the auditor’s report, expenses exceeded appropriations in four areas: county attorney's office, circuit court, county coroner and medical examiner department and the Loudon County Visitors Bureau.

Tracy Blair, Loudon County director of finances, said she knew the line items were going to be over budget before the audit took place because invoices tied to the budget ending on June 30 were received a month later.

"Honestly, I could have said, 'Well, let's charge that expense to the current year, meaning the year that we’re in rather than the year in which those expenses were incurred'," Blair said. "I made the decision to post it to reflect those expenditures correctly."

The audit showed that because of late invoices, the county overspent $9,628 on the county attorney and $3,146 on tourism. The county is currently paying a base fee of $5,500 per month to retain the services of County Attorney Bob Bowman. The mayor's office periodically receives additional invoices from Bowman's office, which detail the nature of the work and associated costs.

"It's that contracted amount each month plus whatever it ends up that's in addition to that and that changes constantly." Blair said. "That's the reason that it went over."

Blair said the county pays the tourism bureau a percentage of the hotel-motel tax revenues. She said in preparing the budget, her department estimated anticipated revenues.

"We can't just pay them what's in the budget," Blair said. "The appropriations resolution says that we (are) going to pay them a percentage of the hotel-motel tax. It's not that those departments spent money that they weren't authorized to spend. It's just that those are budgets that are estimated a little bit more than the others are, and there were expenditures that we were invoiced for in the month of July that were correctly should have been reflected in the 11-12 financials."

She said if she had put the invoices into the current budget, the state may have flagged that action as well. "I believe that would probably be a different audit finding," she said.

Blair said she had hoped her department could have returned a clean audit this year as well.

"I really wish that this could have been the fourth year in a row," Blair said. "... As far as anybody could remember, that was the first time that had ever happened in Loudon County, and I was really proud of that. I am proud of that. We worked really hard for that."

The county's other finding this year was related to the segregation of duties at the sheriff's office in accounting practices.

"The more the different people that you've got involved the less that risk becomes," Blair said. "You only can hire so many people. That's one of those things that, it's an area where there can almost always there can be improvements made. Almost always."

The Lenoir City audit from the state showed deficiencies in operating and compliance operations. The Lenoir City Utilities Board was tagged for not having a formal travel policy in place. The state also highlighted cases in which there was a deficiency in proper documentation for travel expenses and meals. The audit noted that unaccounted for water was at 38.6 percent.

The city received the same two findings in 2011. In 2012, the state reported 12 findings. Shannon Littleton, with LCUB, could not be reached for comment on the most recent audit.