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Spotsy panel to check county credit card use

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A committee in Spotsylvania County will examine the use of county-issued credit cards in response to concerns about business meals and other charges.

The Board of Supervisors this week approved the three-member committee made up of Supervisors Ann Heidig and Greg Cebula and Deputy County Administrator Mark Cole.

Among the group’s tasks is to review county-issued credit card expenditures over the last five years, compare the charges with those of similarly sized localities and recommend any corrective actions.

The county has 69 SunTrust credit cards for department heads, constitutional officers, supervisors, Sheriff’s Office employees and others.

The credit card issue has come up only once at a supervisors meeting this year, when Citizen Budget Review Committee member Jim Joyce in February recommended that officials exercise “extremely tight control of county credit cards, particularly in the area of business lunches.”

He suggested that the deputy county administrator keep the cards and provide them to employees upon request.

The credit card committee was formed in response to feedback from the budget group, whose members are appointed by supervisors, said Heidig, who will chair the new committee.

Still, she said she has no reason to believe the credit cards are being abused.

“I don’t really expect to find anything, but as part of the public trust we have to make sure we have good policies,” Heidig said.

Supervisor David Ross, who proposed the committee without giving a reason, said he thought it was “premature” for him to comment. He said he’d first like to see the committee’s recommendations.

Joyce said his concerns about county-issued credit cards include the amount spent on local business lunches.

“There are people in this county who can’t afford to go out to eat and yet county money is being spent to go to lunch, and that just to me seems wrong,” he said.

County cardholders recently had to sign an agreement that outlines violations and reads in part: “I will obtain the best value for the county by using the card wisely and with discretion.”

An example of business meals that have been paid for by the county include a $53.39 lunch at LongHorn Steakhouse with two county employees and two developers, and a $267.55 dinner at Bravo! with officials from a bond-rating agency. It’s unclear how many people were at the Bravo! dinner.

Preliminary findings of an ongoing, internal audit showed no fraud or major issues with credit card expenses. “Generally, we found that local government credit card purchases were made for legitimate municipal purposes,” finance staff wrote.

The audit, which was initiated in late February, so far has reviewed $94,566 in charges by 18 current and former department heads and constitutional officers. From February 2012 through January 2014, they spent a total of $145,555 with county-issued credit cards.

Just $556.55 in charges have been deemed “inappropriate,” according to the audit’s preliminary findings.

That includes:

  • $55.20 for flowers that a staff member bought after the death of a former spouse. The audit recommends that all flower purchases be prohibited unless approved by county administration. The county has since been reimbursed.
  • $202.51 in unnecessary sales tax payments. Spotsylvania is exempt from sales taxes. The audit suggests printing tax exemption information on the front of cards.
  • $60.04 in reimbursements to employees for meals that had been paid on county-issued credit cards. The audit called those reimbursements “isolated” and “accidental.”
  • $238.80 for AOL services for former Supervisor T.C. Waddy. Waddy was unaware of the charges and hadn’t used AOL since leaving office, according to the audit.

The audit says most meal charges adhered to the county’s policies, though some “may have been avoidable or staff may not have been aware of certain restrictions.”

For instance, the audit identified what appeared to be county-funded staff meals in Richmond during one-day trips for conferences or other meetings. Spotsylvania’s policy is to pay for meals only during overnight trips, unless those meals are “business related.”

The audit also identified nine instances when a tip exceeded 20 percent of a meal’s cost. Limiting tips to 20 percent would have saved an average of $2.75 per meal, the audit said.

Citizen Budget Review Committee Chairman Al King said he’s seen no evidence of fraud, waste or abuse. But he said he’s “strongly opposed” to county-issued credit cards, which he said can be difficult to control.

“Having employees file weekly expense reports with the receipts . . .is the best way to go,” King said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402