An audit shows that Spokane County government’s system for tracking employee time and attendance is costing taxpayers money, is ripe for abuse and violates the law.
Vicky Dalton, a certified public accountant and the county’s internal auditor, presented the report and her recommendations for fixing the problems to the county’s elected officials and department heads this week.
“It’s pretty revealing,” said Jim Lindow, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Dalton’s 33-page study found a myriad of problems with the way the county tracks employee attendance and work hours.
Nearly a third of the county’s 1,700 employees aren’t required to fill out time sheets or otherwise account for their work time.
County payroll clerks assume those employees have worked a full week and pay them accordingly.
Federal laws regulating overtime and compensatory time often are ignored.
In many companies, including the county, employees can choose time off, or compensatory time, in lieu of pay for working overtime.
William Butler, a former parks maintenance worker, racked up 690 hours, or 17 weeks, of compensatory time last year. The federal limit is 240 hours.
The county was forced to pay Butler $5,000 for the time when he resigned in December.
Records on employee vacation and leave time often are ill-kept or miscalculated.
Vacation balances for most county employees are not updated for weeks or months at a time.
“Failure to maintain accurate, timely balances could allow abuse, either intentional or unintentional,” the report states. “Employees could use leave time that is not available to them.”
Many employees are allowed to accrue more vacation time than union contracts or the county code allows.
When those employees resign or retire, the county is forced to pay off the accrued vacation time. Current have accumulated more than $106,000 in extra vacation time.
Other problems cited in the report include inconsistent sick leave policies, side agreements with some work groups that violate union contracts and a general lack of training for payroll clerks.
County Commission Chairman Skip Chilberg said he wasn’t surprised by the findings.
Chilberg said he has heard stories about employees who abuse the slipshod attendance system, although few of the accusations have been corroborated.
“This is something we’ve been concerned with for several years,” said Chilberg, who worked as county treasurer before being elected commissioner. “The potential is there, obviously, for abuse.” Dalton blamed most of the problems on the lack of consistent guidelines.
“Each department and elected official is provided a wide latitude in management of their offices,” she said in her report. “Each department maintains as many or as few forms and records as it sees fit. The county has no written manuals which provide instruction and interpretation of the relevant laws, regulations and work agreements.”
County leaders wasted little time in reacting to the report.
Chief executive officer Lindow said he is forming a committee that will evaluate Dalton’s study and implement her recommendations.
One of the committee’s main objectives will be to write a comprehensive time and attendance policy that applies to all 44 of the county’s departments, he said.