The clerk's office in Wayne County ended last year more than $87,000 in the red, according to an audit released Friday.
Auditors found 164 days in 2007 when the tally of money received didn't match what was deposited, indicating the office took in money it didn't put in the bank, according to the audit.
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The money is missing, Auditor Crit Luallen said in an interview. The office has referred the finding to Attorney General Jack Conway's office for further investigation.
Wayne County Clerk Melissa Turpin told auditors that on days when the amount of receipts was higher than the bank deposit, she assumed that was because customers had charged transactions, but didn't verify that.
Car dealers In Wayne County were allowed to charge costs related to titling vehicles at the clerk's office. That's not unusual; it happens in other counties as well.
However, auditors discovered that wasn't the reason for the shortfall in Turpin's office.
"We can verify the money is missing," Luallen said. "These are very serious concerns."
The audit said Turpin's office lacked adequate segregation of duties, meaning financial functions weren't split among enough employees to ensure adequate checks.
Auditors recommended that Turpin personally pay $87,056 to cover the deficit.
Turpin told the Herald-Leader she doesn't plan to make up the money at this time, however. She hopes the audit of 2008 will show that the money isn't really missing.
"I think it's an accounting problem," said Turpin, who was a deputy in the office for many years but is serving her first term as clerk.
Turpin said she doesn't think anyone in the office stole the money.
She received the audit findings before they were released publicly. Since learning of the problems, she has made improvements, including having an accountant put new procedures in place, Turpin said.
Turpin told auditors that employees in her office now rotate in making deposits and different clerks prepare the daily tally of receipts.
And since of Aug. 1, only government agencies have been allowed to charge transactions at her office, Turpin said.
County clerks collect a wide range of fees and taxes that help fund state and local government. If the office collects excess fees, it turns those over to the county fiscal court after the end of the year.
This year, the county got all it was due for 2007, said Judge-Executive Greg Rankin. But that was after Turpin switched money from 2008 collections to make up for the $87,056 deficit in the 2007 account, the audit said. That money is due back to the 2008 accounts.
The audit raises a concern about the county getting what it is due from 2008 collections. With money tight, $87,000 could have a "huge effect" on the county's budget, Rankin said.
Rankin said the fiscal court wasn't aware of any deficit in the clerk's office until seeing the audit. Now, Rankin and magistrates are waiting to see what an investigation turns up.
"We were shocked at the findings," he said.