Franklin County commissioners request voucher spot-checks

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldOctober 25, 2012 

Franklin County commissioners Wednesday unanimously asked county Administrator Fred Bowen to add to his list of duties random spot-checks of vouchers they're being asked to pay to make sure everything is on the up-and-up.

The request was part of the ongoing fallout from the alleged embezzlement of almost $3 million by former public works accounting manager Dennis Huston, who was fired in February.

Huston is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree theft, money laundering and cocaine possession and is scheduled for trial in January.

Since the alleged theft was discovered, Franklin County officials have tightened financial controls, bought new software and reorganized some departments.

On Wednesday morning, commission Chairman Brad Peck suggested it also might be a good idea to have Bowen look at any large or unusual vouchers for payment as a "sanity check" by someone who isn't involved in the process of preparing the invoices or buying items or equipment.

"I'm not talking about reviewing all the vouchers all the time, but at the very least looking at some of the very large expenditures," Peck said.

Commissioner Rick Miller said he thought it was a good idea, but Commissioner Bob Koch questioned how much work that would add to Bowen's load. In the end, Koch agreed with the other commissioners to give it a try.

"We'll see how it works out," Koch said.

Also Wednesday, the commission:

-- Approved an agreement with Pasco for space for its municipal court in a new building that will be built as part of the jail expansion. The new 25,000-square-foot building at the courthouse complex also is expected to house the Franklin County Sheriff's Office administration.

The city would pay for construction of the court space and a share of common spaces in the building and would own the court space and therefore pay no rent to the county.

The agreement, which has yet to be approved by the Pasco City Council, allows the city to occupy the court space for 80 years, with an option that the county can buy the space from the city after 40 years. Ownership of the space would transfer to the county after 80 years.

Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield told the Herald that the council likely will need to discuss the terms of the agreement in a workshop before taking a vote in mid-November.

-- Unanimously voted to set the vehicle allowance rate for the prosecutor and commissioners at 99 percent of $5.50 per hour when those elected officials choose not to use a county vehicle. The rate is being applied retroactively Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011.

The county re-evaluated the vehicle allowance rates, which were calculated by Huston, after his alleged embezzlement came to light.

A report by Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton said the rates had been set too high, and Peck told the Herald earlier this month that he believed the discrepancy was a result of Huston's alleged deception.

The rate structure for equipment rentals incorporates maintenance and operation costs, such as repairs, supplies, overhead and fuel, as well as depreciation, a surcharge for replacement and corrections for prior year charges.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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