10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, July 21, 2011

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

A San Bernardino County civil grand jury is calling on the auditor-controller/treasurer/tax collector’s office to conduct more audits of county departments and special districts.

The 2010-2011 San Bernardino County grand jury report last month criticizes the reduction of internal audit staff from 20 full-time positions three years ago to 11 currently, saying the office should audit all county departments and special districts every year. Currently, the office sets audit priorities for county departments based on whether they fall into a low- or high-risk category and only audits special districts every five years, the report states.

The grand jury describes the internal audit process, which looks at how county departments are handling their finances, “as the most important safeguard of public funds.”

Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector Larry Walker said previous grand juries have made the same recommendation to increase audits and that his response is essentially the same: He would need more staff and resources to conduct complete audits of every department.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve always been challenged to do as much auditing as we’d like, and the current budget challenges are making that even more challenging,” he said.

The grand jury also criticized the Board of Supervisors’ decision to merge the separately elected offices of auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector in January 2010 after then-Treasurer/Tax Collector Dick Larsen retired.

The grand jury describes the consolidation as a possible conflict of interest and recommends that the California attorney general be asked for a ruling to determine if the county violated voter rights when it made that decision.

The report notes that at least 10 counties have combined auditor-controller/treasurer/tax collector functions but states that “the Grand Jury found no county where as many important positions are held concurrently by one person as is the case with” San Bernardino County.

However, it also incorrectly states that the county clerk and recorder duties are still part of Walker’s office. The clerk-recorder functions were turned over to the assessor’s office this past January.

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