By Michael Howell
On Monday, January 13, every School District Superintendent in the county except one, along with their business managers and clerks, made a case before the Ravalli County Commissioners that they now rated the situation at the County Treasurer’s Office a full scale emergency. They related in detail the seriousness of the impacts to them due to the Treasurer’s delinquencies in reporting.
County Chief Finance Officer, Klarysse Murphy, who was present, was already thinking hard at the time about some agencies that, unlike the school districts, are taking their disbursements and depositing them directly into a private bank. Two agencies that operate in that fashion jumped to mind immediately, she said, the Ravalli County Council on Aging and the Valley Veterans Center. She knew cash flow was crucial to these agencies so something had to be done keep the RCCA’s Meals on Wheels program rolling and the Valley Veterans Center up and running.
The next day she presented a plan to the Commissioners and the Treasurer to do just that. It involved not only getting some funds to about 17 entities which use independent banks rather than running their funds through the county, it also involved a second check to see if the mill levies have been registered correctly. She got the go ahead.
In her office on Wednesday, Murphy explained to the Bitterroot Star what she was doing and how it worked.
She said, with respect to the school districts, “We serve as their bank. We don’t make payments to the school districts. We take their deposits in and we clear their warrants, their checks.” She said what the schools can’t get right now, due to delinquencies in the Treasurer’s office, is an accurate cash balance or an accurate accounting.
“It’s like you not getting your monthly bank statement,” she said.
Murphy said that cash balances at the county were coming in and being receipted at this point, but that is done in a separate account in the Black Mountain software being used. That account has to be balanced in the tax program, handled by the Treasurer’s Office, before it can be carried over into the accounting program which is handled by the Finance Office. So right now there are dollars being receipted but that money is not showing up in the accounting program of the Finance Office because it has not been reconciled in the Treasurer’s Office.
What Murphy proposed was to look at what we know has at least been receipted so far.
“Let’s put it this way,” said Murphy. “I can look at what’s coming in now and see what has been receipted. I know there are funds from October, November and December that are yet to be receipted and the Treasurer is trying to get current on that. But we can look at cash balances as of October 31, 2013 and all the receipting that actually has been done up to that point and, using those figures, go into the tax program and run those receipts for the various entities. Then we could do a schedule and see how much we could clear in checks today.”
She said that, including the RCCA and VVC, there was a total of 17 entities including library districts and a few irrigation districts and others entities that would all be getting checks within a day or two.
“Let’s hope that the money is really there,” she said.
In fact the entities did get their checks. The Senior Citizens got $290,000. The North Valley Library picked up a check for $132,150. The City of Hamilton, according to finance officer Craig Shepherd, got a check for $1.62 million. Mayor Gene Mim Mack of Stevensville picked up a check for $145,035, to name a few.
Murphy said, aside from those extraordinary disbursements, her office was doing a second check and running what the tax levy or the tax bills were and making sure the taxes collected were receipted to the proper funds. Murphy noted that the solution allowed some cash to flow, but a real accounting would still have to be done.
That’s what the school districts, which use the county as their bank, are still waiting on.
The treasurer estimated at the meeting with the school superintendents that she would have an October report by the end of that week or by the end of the next week. According to staff at the Finance Office, the treasurer did recently submit an October Report but it was returned due to deficiencies and they are awaiting a new submission.
State law requires the treasurer to make these detailed monthly reports. If it’s not done, the law states, “the county treasurer forfeits and shall pay to the county the sum of $500 for each neglect or refusal. The board of county commissioners shall institute suits for the recovery of the sum.” As of Monday, the board of commissioners has taken no action in this regard.
Stevensville School District Superintendent, David Whitesell, said, “This is more than an inconvenience, it’s our inability to be responsible fiscal fiduciaries in our own right.” Whitesell said that some school districts in the Flathead Valley, including Polson and Ronan, have quit using the county as a bank and gone directly to private banking. He said those school districts can go on-line like the average person, and check their bank balance any day.