Come May, Kimberly Ingram will have served 12 years as clerk and master of Polk County Chancery Court.
So when the annual state audit of county finances rolls around, she’s gotten used to hearing that her three-person office doesn’t segregate employees’ duties adequately.
They heard it again this year.
“We’ve always had the ‘duties are not segregated.’ Just about every single office gets that,” Ingram said Thursday after the Tennessee comptroller of the treasury issued a 161-page audit of Polk and recommended better segregation of duties in eight county offices, including Ingram’s.
All told, the audit report had 19 findings and recommendations for improvement. The comptroller makes recommendations designed to keep counties out of trouble, spokesman Blake Fontenay said.
“There’s no allegation of fraud here,” Fontenay said. “I will say that some of these deficiencies that they have create an environment in which fraud could more easily occur.”
Polk’s offices of county executive and director of accounts and budgets had the highest number of findings in the audit, with a total of 14, according to a news release from the comptroller.
In one case, the offices spent more money than the Polk County Commission had approved. In another, accrued vacation leave balances for employees of the offices exceeded the maximum amount of leave allowed under the county’s personnel policy, the release stated.
The director of schools office also spent more than approved by the County Commission, according to the release.
When it comes to segregating duties, other communities have run into trouble, Fontenay said, when “one person has been put in a position where they receive the money, they have bookkeeping responsibility and they have responsibility for putting money in the bank — and no one is looking over their shoulder.”
Ingram said she trusts her two employees, and it’s difficult to segregate duties in a three-person office when someone has to go lunch or leave for vacation.
“I’ve had these two people in this office for 10 years or more,” she said. “I think we’re an extremely small office in a small county and that’s why we have the issues of segregation in the office.”
The state audit found that, in four Polk County offices, including Ingram’s, multiple employees operated out of the same cash drawer.
“Failure to assign each employee a separate cash drawer reduces accountability if money is lost or stolen,” the news release stated.
“This is the first year the cash drawer has ever been brought up as an issue,” Ingram said.
To fix the issue, she may get three cash drawers, or assign one person to handle a single cash drawer, she said.
“I’m still trying to decide how I’m going to do that,” she said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.