Audit finds Montgomery County improving financial controls, but problems remain

(The Center Square) – An audit found Montgomery County officials are improving financial controls and processes, but still overcharged taxpayers by approximately $89,000 in 2022.

Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick gave the county a “fair” rating after it received a “poor” rating in 2016. The “fair” rating shows operations need to improve in several areas as the report contains several findings, including one or more items requiring immediate attention.

In 2016, Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway reported concerns over the inappropriate use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue. It also found problems with the segregation of accounting duties in multiple county offices and its protection of electronic data.

A follow-up audit in 2018 found the county made progress on many shortcomings and implemented several recommendations.

“It’s good to see county officials have made significant improvements since the 2016 audit that found the county was inappropriately spending revenue generated by a voter-approved sales tax,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “It’s clear the county took the findings from the previous audit seriously and enacted policies to ensure most of them don’t happen again.”

The latest audit found the Montgomery County clerk reported an assessed valuation of approximately $239 million instead of the actual valuation of $279 million to Fitzpatrick’s office when reporting the tax rate ceiling for a road and bridge tax levy. The incorrect information led to a higher certified tax ceiling.

“Counties should ensure property tax rates levied are calculated correctly and do not exceed the tax rate ceilings established by state law,” the audit stated. “The county clerk indicated human error is to blame for the wrong assessed valuations being reported… ”

In the county’s response to the finding, the deputy county clerk and county clerk stated they contacted Fitzpatrick’s office last October to resolve the issue. They also stated they would reduce the road and bridge property tax in 2024 to correct the overcharges.

“The mistake made by the county in 2022 that resulted in residents being overtaxed by $89,000 is something that should not happen,” Fitzpatrick said. “While this isn’t an enormous number spread out across the entire county, even one dollar of over taxation is too much for taxpayers who deserve to keep those funds in their own pockets.”

A similar error in 2021 led to the county assessing approximately $5,000 less in property taxes than the maximum allowed by state law.

The audit also identified financial control problems in inmate money and commissary purchases in the sheriff’s office. According to the audit, the sheriff’s office doesn’t make timely deposits of inmate money, which increases the risk of loss, theft or misuse of money and could go undetected. The sheriff’s office failed to prepare an accounting of liabilities for the inmate and commissary accounts, a problem documented in the last four audits.

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