February 14, 2012 in City

Spokane County lost thousands by not collecting bonds

Audit finds no tracking of unpaid surety bonds
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Map of this story's location

Spokane County is failing to collect surety bonds from criminal defendants who forfeit them when they don’t show up for their court dates, a state audit has found.

The county has 30 days to notify a bail bond company when a defendant doesn’t appear. If the county doesn’t notify the bond company, then the county can’t collect the money.

State auditors discovered that more than $30,000 was lost in just four cases that were examined.

The extent of the problem and the losses could be much higher.

According to a management letter accompanying the audit, the auditor’s staff said, “The county is responsible for developing adequate internal controls to track surety bonds received as a condition of a defendant’s release” during the pre-trial phase.

“Because it has not done so, we were not able to determine how much revenue may have been lost during the audit period,” the letter said.

Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark told county commissioners that the court is trying to fix the problem and recover the money. Currently, one of the county’s judges is tracking cases for forfeited bonds.

“There is no easy way electronically to do this,” Clark said during a meeting on Monday with the state auditor’s staff and commissioners.

The audit was for 2010.

The county also was criticized by auditors for failing to pass along banking fees charged to the county’s general fund. The fees are nearly $170,000 a year, and some of them are being charged for transactions such as the use of coins by the Spokane Transit Authority.

Commissioners said they would like to establish agreements to charge other agencies with bank fees levied in conjunction with those agencies’ transactions.

In addition, the auditor said the county should not carry $48 million in the fund for clearing county warrants – essentially, its checking account – since that money does not earn interest.

The county and other agencies in Spokane had an $828 million balance in the state investment pool as of Dec. 31, 2010.

In a third issue, the city of Spokane is charging too much money to the county for indirect services provided by the city-county emergency communications director.

The state auditors asked that an agreement justifying the charges be included in county documents.

The audit did not include any more serious findings, said Debbie Pennick, audit manager for the state.

An earlier finding that the county assessor was not getting new property on the tax rolls quickly enough is being addressed to eliminate the problem, which was discovered in 2007, according to the audit summary.


There are five comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email