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Carter County collector resigns amid investigation into missing funds
VAN BUREN, Mo. -- Carter County Collector Jennifer Clark-Williams resigned just after 8 a.m. Tuesday, following the announcement law enforcement is investigating nearly $4,000 in missing property tax revenue.
The missing cash was flagged in a recently released state audit, which also rates Carter County's overall performance as poor and in need of significant improvements to operations.
The county, expected to send annual tax bills at the end of this month, has closed the collector's office until commissioners can determine how to proceed.
Presiding Commissioner John Bailiff said a new county collector eventually will be appointed by the governor to serve until the next general election in 2014. The commissioners are unsure what they are allowed to do with the office in the interim. Clark-Williams, who took office in January 1999, and a part-time worker were the only employees of the office.
Prosecuting Attorney Rocky Kingree anticipates filing felony charges against Clark-Williams when an investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control is complete in the next few weeks.
Clark-Williams' attorney Keith French of the Scott Law Group said his client regrets having to resign, but felt due to the release of the audit and the ongoing criminal investigation, it is in the public's best interest for her to do so. Clark-Williams cleaned out her office Tuesday morning before handing in a single-sentence resignation letter.
Kingree said he first asked for a special investigation of the county collector's office in 2011, following a previous audit, but there was not enough evidence at that time and the county had to wait until an audit was completed this month.
This audit revealed discrepancies between November 2010 and December 2011.
The audit says cash and check receipts totaling almost $2,500 were received, but not deposited, and check overpayments of about $1,300 were received and the corresponding cash not deposited.
Kingree anticipates filing charges on these specific discrepancies after reviewing the results of the current investigation, but said he has concerns there could be additional discrepancies in previous years.
The state has 20 days from Clark-Williams' resignation to complete an audit of the office and attempt to make the books balance, according to Kingree.
He said following the previous audit he had "suspicions there were bad accounting practices or criminal stealing" taking place in the office, but had to wait for the completion of the current audit.
The state audit reported the county collector does not always distribute collections in a timely manner.
"Bank interest and surtax moneys collected over several years had not been distributed as of May 31, 2012," the audit stated. "The county collector does not always refund tax overpayments or issue checks for refunds, and did not realize a $3,015 overpayment received in December 2010 needed to be refunded to the taxpayer until April 2012 when audit staff brought this to her attention. In addition, the County Collector does not adequately manage and document partial payments."
Auditors state that as noted in their prior reports, controls over the property tax system need improvement.
"Neither the county clerk nor the county commission verify the accuracy of the county collector's annual settlements, and the county collector does not have a detailed list to support approximately $63,000 in taxes owed for the 2006 tax year or prior as reported on the annual settlement," the audit reads. "In addition, the county clerk does not maintain a complete and accurate account book."
Commissioners declined to comment on the audit, citing an ongoing investigation, but said Carter County's fiscal picture is not as dire as the report may seem to indicate.
The audit reports the general revenue fund is in poor financial condition, with an ending cash balance of almost $86,000 at the end of 2009, but a budgeted ending balance of $641 predicted for the end of 2012, which does not take into account "significant liabilities" totaling approximately $198,000.
Bailiff said the county had projected ending balance of $1,600 for 2011, but ended the year with $44,000 in the general revenue account, up about $7,000 from the prior year.
County officials said Carter County has always been poor, with little taxable income to help with operations, but that the bills are always paid.
"We have never been flush with money in the general revenue account … but we are able to operate from month to month," said County Clerk Rebecca Simpson Gibbs.
Lawsuits and payments to county officials because of salary underpayment have contributed to the falling balance of the general revenue account, Bailiff said.
The county settled a lawsuit in November 2010 with three former sheriffs and was ordered to do pay $170,000. Of that, almost $30,000 came from the general revenue account and the remainder was borrowed from the road and bridge account, Bailiff said. The funds are being repaid to the road and bridge account with interest.
It was found in January 2011 that 11 current and former elected county officials had been underpaid by a total of $93,000. The county established a four-year repayment plan, Bailiff said, that requires payments of $23,000 a year.
An expensive special election was additionally required in 2011 to replace former sheriff Tommy Adams, who was arrested on drug-related charges.
The county further learned last week a $1.2 million lawsuit has been filed against it in connection with the actions of a former sheriff.
"The county commission feels it is obligated to pay the debts it has accrued through lawsuits and the underpayment of elected officials," Bailiff said, speaking on behalf of the entire commission. "Without that, our bottom line would be a whole lot better. … We are obviously paying quite a bit of money now, but we are meeting our financial obligations."
Van Buren, MO