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Local counties differ on off-budget funds

Ogle, Lee have credit card policies; Whiteside doesn't

Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

Both Ogle and Whiteside counties have funds that don’t appear in their budgets, but are reviewed by auditors, county officials said.

Additionally, while Lee County and Ogle County have countywide credit card policies, according to officials, Whiteside County doesn’t.

In a story last month, Sauk Valley Media reported on the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department’s administrative tow fund, which isn’t listed in the county budget and could be used at Sheriff Michael Harn’s discretion for various department needs.

Sauk Valley Media also reported on the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department’s credit card use, which included “training” meals at local restaurants several times a week, alterations to credit card bills, and personal purchases on county cards reimbursed directly to the credit card company.

In Whiteside County, some of the county funds are listed off the budget because of state law or because that’s how they had been established, County Administrator Joel Horn said. Some of those funds, like the prisoner trust account, don’t directly involve the County Board, he said.

Those funds still are public record, Horn explained, so the county isn’t avoiding being transparent.

“I think they’re working out fine the way they are,” he said. “They are audited. It’s not as if there isn’t any oversight. They’re not at risk for abuse. … It’s not as if there isn’t any oversight. There just isn’t the County Board [oversight].”

Lee County, however, lists all of its funds in the annual budget, Chairman Rick Ketchum said, and the County Board appropriates money to those funds, which often are controlled by various department heads.

All funds are listed in the budget, Ketchum said, because that’s how the county has done it in the past. It’s also easier to track money and is more transparent, he said.

Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker said the Sheriff’s Department’s administrative tow fund and other funds weren’t listed on the budget because that’s the way it had always been done.

Those funds were reviewed by the county’s auditors, he said, who haven’t raised concerns. However, Gouker wanted to have those funds listed in the budget for the next fiscal year, he said, because he didn’t like that they had been off the budget. He also wants fund expenditures to be more transparent and be brought under more oversight.

Credit card policies

Ogle County established a credit card policy in 2013 on the recommendation of its auditors. Five departments in Ogle County have credit cards, according to a Freedom of Information Act request and interviews, and each department has been responsible for its own policy.

Lee County has a countywide credit card policy, Ketchum said.

“It’s pretty loose right at this point,” he said. “We’re reviewing it. … I don’t know if we’ll change it.”

Personal purchases are not allowed under Lee County’s credit card policy, Ketchum said.

Whiteside County doesn’t have a credit card policy for the entire county government, Horn said. That’s the decision of each department and the elected officials in charge of those departments.

“I don’t believe we have a countywide policy,” he said. “Each department would have its own policy. When I was in management services, we had a credit card, and our policy was that it would be only for gas and emergencies.”

 

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