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County lax on cashing checks

At a time when money is getting tighter, some checks meant for county coffers have slipped through the cracks ” literally.

More than $6,300 in checks for the county Behavioral Health department was found last Saturday by a carpet cleaning crew, apparently after they fell behind some furniture, The Union has learned. One check was issued 11 months ago.

Last spring, a county worker was let go in the wake of a routine audit that disclosed the untimely deposit of incoming checks, according to officials.



“There was no detrimental impact on the public, but it has forced us to take a look at cash handling procedures and make improvements,” said Jeffrey Brown, the county’s health and human services director.

The grant and trustee checks found by the weekend cleaning crew were meant to reimburse the county for various mental health services that it provides to residents. The crew left them on a desk, and they were promptly deposited, Brown said.




The other incident involving inbound checks surfaced in the Behavioral Health department in April, officials confirmed.

During a routine review of cash handling procedures, county officials found checks that were not deposited in a timely manner, Brown said.

Most of the checks had not expired and were deposited when they were found, Brown said. He added that the county did not lose any money, no malfeasance occurred, and the mental health services continue to be provided.

Government agencies are known to let relatively small amounts of money ” in the thousands of dollars ” ride for a number of months, according to Brown. The $6,300 is a fraction of the behavioral health department’s $17 million annual budget.

For checks issued after June 1, tighter procedures were implemented, Brown said. One person opens the mail and logs the checks, another one deposits them and a third reviews the logs and reconciles any missing check each month, he said.

Though resolved, the problems come to light when government is faced with a falloff in revenue because of the economic slump ” presumably making cash-handling procedures more important than ever. Brown said the latest batch of checks found by the cleaners did not fall under the new procedures, because they were issued before June 1.

Some serious foul-ups involving the routine duties by rank-and-file government workers have surfaced in recent years, as well as in the private sector.

Nevada City’s inadequate procedures in collecting money that it was owed for a long period of time was the subject of an investigation and county grand jury report.

New procedures are now in place.

The issue of government workers not following basic routine is not limited to handling money. In one prominent case six years ago, a U.S. postal worker in Massachusetts admitted to dumping more than 1,000 pieces of mail into a pond. He was later convicted by the U.S. Attorney.

To contact Editor Jeff Pelline, e-mail jpelline@theunion.com or call 477-4235.


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