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September 22, 2018
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Quorum Court considers independent auditor

Software change creates confusion with final numbers

By Kaitlyn Rigdon
This article was published February 15, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.

Union County Quorum Court officials are looking into hiring an independent auditor to look over the tax collector’s office after a software update created issues with the 2017 final tax settlement statement.

At the meeting Thursday, officials went into executive session after discussing the 2017 final tax settlement statement and the tax collector’s office.

After the executive session, officials approved a motion to have County Judge Mike Loftin look into how much it would cost and what the timeline would be to hire an independent auditor to audit the tax collector’s office.

The final tax settlement summary, which was approved by Loftin and sent to the state, said the county is down $1.2 million in collections from 2016’s collection total.

“Property values in Union County go up a little every year,” Loftin said. “This year they should have gone up a little from last year. They didn’t. I don’t know where the problem is.”

In 2017, the tax collector’s office updated their system with software by Apprentice Information Systems (AIS). At the time, out of the 75 counties in Arkansas, only two counties had not upgraded their systems and Union County was one of them.

The downside to switching software in the middle of the year was that it created confusion within the courthouse.

To get an accurate tax settlement, Union County had to hire Jim Monk, who has overseen technical updates in Union County since the 1980s.

“The Final Tax Settlement provided by Apprentice known as AIS was of minimal value,” Monk wrote in the 2017 final tax settlement overview. “The approach used was to take the Original Charge for collections add/subtract all the adjustments such as add/error changes, crediting DAV, crediting delinquency, crediting certified taxes and the balance must be what was collected.”

Not all of the activity was available to make the report from AIS usable, so Monk used the Year to Date Cash Settlement Reports from both the AS400, the original system, and AIS to account for the tax receipts.

After combining the totals from the reports and the cash received by the treasurer, the difference resulted in an actual shortage of about $2,200, which Tax Collector Paula Beard said she paid out of pocket.

Beard was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting due to an illness but spoke to a News-Times reporter over the phone.

Concerning the settlement stating that the county is down $1.2 million in collections, Beard said that was “incorrect.”

“We’re not short $1.2 million. It’s $444,000 from the collections we had collected from the previous year,” Beard said. “I think it’s because we went into delinquent so early with penalties and interest. It’s not going to look good that we’re $1.2 million (shorter than 2016) and that’s incorrect.”

Loftin said the shortage creates a problem, especially for local school districts that receive funding through property taxes.

“The point I want to get across is that we’re $1.2 million down in collections this year over last year and the people who hurt the most are the school districts,” Loftin said. “Because a majority of that money is dispersed to the school districts.”

Loftin said that the County Treasurer Debbie Ray got the checks mailed to the school districts before she left for vacation.

“That representative from Apprentice said there were no problems, no issues and that everything would communicate … that this was the best program and everybody uses it,” Justice Justin Hendrix said. “And here we are a month late on all of these report.”

JP Dean Storey said if the issue is with the computer system, the representative who sold it to the county should come and explain what happened and why.

JP Johnny Burson said he did research on the company and several counties told him they had “no problems and they bragged on it … So it may not be totally the system’s problems.”

“I don’t think the system’s got anything to do with us being $1.2 million short on collection,” Loftin said. “And (Beard) came to Quorum Court month after month and told us how good she was doing on her collections and now we’re $1.2 million short from the previous year … I’m wondering what happened and nobody is here to answer that.”

Loftin ended Thursday’s meeting saying he would “see how long it will take to get the audit from the state and see what private audit costs, or as close as they can tell me and also how long it will take.” He said he would report back to the Quorum Court next month, and they can decide how to proceed.

If an independent auditor is hired, it will cost the taxpayers money, Loftin noted. Monk made $6,600, at $100 an hour, coming up with Union County’s final tax settlement.

Quorum Court members also talked about planning a special meeting with Beard and AIS to discuss the issues the county has experienced.

Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or krigdon@eldoradonews.com.

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