Health district to change accounting practices after audit

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MOSES LAKE — Changes in the accounting department in early 2017 meant the Grant County Health District underreported its pension liabilities and made errors in its calculations of federal grant spending. Those were among the errors identified in a report issued by the Washington State Auditor.

In addition, the health district didn’t follow all the procedures when awarding grant funds as part of a federal program, the audit report said. The mistakes didn’t cost the district any money.

To address the audit concerns the health district said it would update its forms and make sure employees receive the required training.

The audit team said health district employees who were responsible for preparing the financial reports “were not familiar with the reporting requirements” of the state’s accounting system. In addition, health district management “did not have a formal process to evaluate the accuracy of the district’s financial statements.”

New employees were preparing the reports for 2016, the report said, and the district “did not provide new staff with adequate training” in the state’s reporting requirements. “Staff relied on prior year financial statements and notes as a template for reporting current-year financial activity without adequately reviewing recent updates” to the state system.

Because employees didn’t know about the changes, they underreported the district’s pension liabilities by $1,194,970, and incorrectly reported $207,293 in federal grants. The audit also found errors in reporting “employee compensated absences.” An overpayment and refund in 2015 was reported incorrectly.

Health district officials said the errors were a result of new employees coming on board at a crucial time. “Changes in key accounting staff occurred in January 2017 and the timing of the change left the district vulnerable to reporting errors. Due to time constraints training in the (state accounting system) was not immediately available to the new staff.”

The prior accountant didn’t have time to work on the preliminary 2016 report and “recommended the new accountant use the previous year’s recording template.” To solve the problem, health district officials said they would make sure all employees received the proper training and would implement a review system to ensure the reports are in compliance with current reporting standards.

Auditors also found an error in the federal grant program. The district didn’t review some qualifications of some recipients of a grant to fight diabetes and heart disease. Health district officials said they had “a long-standing relationship” with the groups that received the grants, but didn’t check all the requirements for all the recipients. “The district will change its standard contract form” to make sure the information is included, health district officials said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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