Supervisors approve help for the Auditor’s office

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

The Jan. 17 meeting of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors began like they have for the past four months — with Social Services worker Ava Hagwood speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, advocating for her fellow employees to be paid more. Well, that’s all about to end. This week Hagwood told the board that she will spend her extra time trying to find a job in another county. She plans to finish her master’s degree and then move. “Plumas County has showed they are not interested in investing in their employees,” she said.

Help for the auditor

The supervisors approved a contract not to exceed $130,000 with Craig Goodman for consulting and training services in the Auditor’s office. Goodman is familiar with the office, as he has provided his services for the past several years, but never for this amount.

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County Administrator Debra Lucero, who presented the item for approval, said that Goodman  is very respected throughout the state. “We need a lot of his help,” Lucero said. There has been turnover in the Auditor’s office, with both the Auditor and Assistant Auditor leaving in the past year. The board appointed Martee Graham late last year to be the new Auditor.

During recent weeks, problems have been uncovered — such as not reconciling cash balances for the past two years. Supervisor Tom McGowan asked if Goodman’s help would be needed on an ongoing basis.  “I can’t answer that,” Lucero said. “It will be up to the auditor/controller’s office to see where they are.”

Supervisor Greg Hagwood piggybacked on McGowan’s question and asked, “Is there sometime in the future when we can handle our auditing independently without these types of contracts?”

Lucero explained that in the past Goodman mostly helped the county close its books, which she described as “very common practice to bring in extra help and extra eyes.” But she added that’s a different kind of process than what is needed now. “We have two years of cash reconciliation that need to be figured out,” she said.

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“If he’s been around for five years, why haven’t we reconciled our cash?” Hagwood asked.

Auditor Martee Graham said that the previous auditor didn’t ask for his assistance in that area, but she is requesting it.

There was a bit of an exchange between Hagwood and Graham when he asked if she had all of the documents that she needed. Graham, who was out of the office, deferred answering that question, saying she needed to be in the office to do so.

Ultimately the board unanimously approved the contract.

CAO report

During her weekly report to the board, Lucero addressed employees’ compensation. “We had heard week after week about the board’s seemingly deaf ears on the plight of the employees,” she said. “We aren’t going to have a good idea until February when we have our mid-year review,” as to where the county stands financially.

“Why we haven’t had an idea of where we stood is because we didn’t reconcile our cash,” Lucero explained. “We haven’t done it for two years. It’s supposed to be done daily.” During that time, which was also coincided with the Dixie Fire, the county amassed a backload of invoices that had to be paid with fees and interest. She said staff was stressed due to the fire, the financial software wasn’t set up, and there was not good communication between auditor and treasurer.

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She said that the Auditor’s staff is insufficiently trained, and they are “going to have to get people up to speed in order to handle the finances of the county.” There are also outdated policies and procedures to contend with, along with a loss of institutional knowledge.

As for the financial picture as a whole, Lucro said that the county is looking at a loss of $500,000 annually in property tax due to the Dixie Fire. The state will backfill that loss for two years, but not beyond that. “When there’s a disaster there’s an assumption you will be made whole,” she said. “We will be 40 to 60 percent whole.”

Lucero also discussed deferred maintenance. “Half of the fourth floor has been taken over by wasps and flies,” she said. Trees need to be trimmed around the courthouse to keep the leaves from clogging the drains. “This year through the budgeting process – we should be looking at all the one-time expenditures,” she said.

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.The last topic involved providing training for county personnel on establishing and running emergency shelters.

Pamela Courtwright, from the county’s Office of Emergency Services, would like to train one or two people each department. She is working with Social Services, whose responsibility it is to set up the shelters and run them until the Red Cross arrives. Even then, county staff must be present. “If there were four shelters, we would need shifts covered,” Courtwright said, emphasizing that providing security and food are among the most important functions.

She suggested that the faith-based community could be trained as well.

“It’s incredibly important that we maintain independent ability to provide these services,” Supervisor Greg Hagwood said. “We need to be able to take care of ourselves without being dependent on the Red Cross.”

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Courtwright agreed saying that it “would be really easy for our county to be cut off” during an emergency such as a fire or flood.