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10/24/2018 7:14:00 PM
Repeated Lake County audit issues could prompt state intervention

Dan Carden, Times of Northwest Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — Lake County officials potentially could be required to explain to Indiana lawmakers why numerous problematic state audit results have yet to be corrected, in some cases for more than a decade.

An annual audit released Tuesday by the State Board of Accounts appears to go out of its way to document repeat audit findings, across numerous Lake County departments, that have not been resolved despite corrective action plans penned by the responsible officials.

They include: An incomplete county recorder's fee and cash book (also identified in 10 of 11 past audits); inaccurate county jail inmate trust fund balances (also in eight prior audits); improper mingling of tax sale revenues (also in six prior audits); and vendor payments made prior to county commissioner approval (also in five prior audits). 

In addition, the latest audit found a fund balance variance between the county auditor and treasurer that dates back to 2011; a lack of internal financial controls and insufficient bank account reconciliations in the county clerk's Crown Point office, and satellite offices in Hammond, East Chicago and Gary; and the loss of $7,761.24 in sheriff's department funds that never were deposited in the bank.

Most of the responsible officials agreed with the findings by the state auditing agency and pledged to correct them prior to the state's next audit of its second-most populous county.

However, past Lake County audits show many of those same officials making identical promises to get their books in order.

A 2017 state law enacted by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb ultimately could force the issue.

House Enrolled Act 1031 requires the State Board of Accounts to alert the General Assembly's audit committee when a local official fails to file or complete a corrective action plan within six months of receiving an audit finding. 

Under the law, the legislative committee then can take a range of actions from requiring the local official to personally explain the noncompliance to referring the matter to the county prosecutor for potential criminal charges.

This is the first Lake County audit since the State Board of Accounts began implementing the law last November, so Lake County officials will have until at least April to bring their departments up to state expectations.

State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, said he sponsored the measure because while most local governments follow the rules and update their practices after receiving an audit finding, there are some that seem to need stronger encouragement to get in line.

The law was co-sponsored by state Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point; and state Sens. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso; and Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores.

Related Links:
• 2017 Lake County Compliance Report by State Board of Accounts
• 2017 Lake County Financial Audit by State Board of Accounts

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