Overspending in Smith Co.

Smith County had deficits totaling more than $3.5 million in funds for courthouse and jail maintenance, capital projects and solid waste disposal, according to an audit of the county’s finances at the end of the last fiscal year.

State comptroller’s office auditors reported that the largest share of the deficit stemmed from the $2.7 million in costs associated with closing a county landfill and monitoring it. In their response to the audit, Smith County officials wrote that they should have set up reserve funds for some projects at the courts building and ambulance facility and that the county is setting aside money on a regular basis to pay for closing the landfill.

Auditors also found problems with management of the county budget and in purchasing.

They found that appropriations exceeded estimated funding in at least half a dozen funds, including the money set aside for roads, the medical examiner and drug control. County management said a lapse in the special purpose fund has been remedied now that the county had turned over management of the fair to an outside group.

“Smith County had some bills that came in after the year was closed,” county management wrote. “Smith County will have to be more accurate on estimated expenditures in the future.”

Auditors pointed out that purchase orders had not been issued for some required purchases, and that the county had not solicited competitive bids for the purchase of fuel. The county officials responded by saying both practices were standard policy, and showed no sign of changing it anytime soon. Officials said that the county prefers not to bid out fuel because it would then be responsible for the environmental issues that come with owning fuel storage tanks.

The county highway department continues to be a target for thieves, with someone making off with a pickup truck valued at $7,800 and another $3,130 worth of tools and other items. Auditors said a similar theft had been reported the previous year and urged officials to develop and implement procedures to guard against such losses.

In the schools department, officials had failed to seek competitive bids for more than $95,000 in insurance, including more than $40,000 to cover buildings and their contents. Schools officials responded that they would seek competitive bids for liability insurance, but auditors wrote that they should seek bids not just for liability, but for all types of insurance they buy. State law requires competitive bids for purchases over $10,000.