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Editorial: Ogle County Board correct to spend more for audit work

A forensic audit into Ogle County’s administrative tow fund will continue, after the county board approved additional funding. Board members made the right choice.

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Auditors who have been looking into Ogle County’s controversial administrative tow fund apparently have a bigger job on their hands than anticipated.

In May, the Ogle County Board voted to pay $7,500 to Sikich LLP, a Naperville-based accounting and consulting firm, to perform a forensic audit of the fund, which had been under the exclusive control of Sheriff Michael Harn between October 2011 and February of this year, when board members voted to rein in Harn’s spending authority.

The fund was a repository for administrative tow fees that the board created in October 2011, when members OK’d a new $350 fee charged to motorists whose encounters with sheriff’s deputies led to the towing of their vehicles. The fund took in $210,400 in its first 2 years, but about $70,000 of that came from sources other than tow fees.

Harn’s spending of tow fund money was reported in a series of Sauk Valley Media stories earlier this year, including “Off the budget, little oversight; Sheriff’s fund used for wide range of expenses.”

That spending included $22,947 for a 2013 Dodge pickup truck, $5,437 for “foldable frisbees” and other handout items, $4,000 to Bob Coine to run the sheriff’s department’s Facebook page, $700 for a tent at the Ogle County Fair, and $170 for flowers for Secretaries Day.

At last Tuesday’s Ogle County Board meeting, Kim Gouker, chairman, supported Sikich’s request for additional money, up to $7,500, to complete the audit.

Gouker said the auditors told him the records were “quite disorganized,” which has made their work more difficult than anticipated.

“Examinations like this are like peeling off an onion,” Gouker said. “There are different layers.”

Several board members balked at the additional expense, but the board, by a 19-3 vote, approved it.

As board member Martin Typer said, “We owe it to the people we represent to find out what happened.”

Indeed.

By shouldering its financial oversight authority, the board is making up for lost time from January and February, when calls for a forensic audit were brushed aside in advance of the March 18 primary, when Harn, facing two opponents, lost his GOP renomination bid.

The board’s vote came on the same day that ground was officially broken for the new Ogle County Sheriff’s Administration building in Oregon. Its cost is estimated at $4.1 million.

By comparison, spending an additional $7,500 to find out what went on in the administrative tow fund is a drop in the bucket.

We do not know what the auditors will eventually find.

We do know that county board members should think twice before they create any additional new funds and grant elected officials total discretion on how taxpayers’ money will be spent.

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