County splits accounting functions to new finance office

County Commissioners voted unanimously during their Jan. 10 meeting to move accounting functions from the clerk and recorder’s office to the newly formed finance department.

Years ago, commissioners combined accounting operations and accountants into the clerk and recorder/auditors office.

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Both clerk and recorder and the auditor are elected positions, which were combined in the county, under state law.

Accounting operations are not a designated statutory office, according to commissioner.

County accountants and auditors share some job function, but have “separate and distinct roles and responsibilities,” according to commissioners.

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“The current auditing and accounting operations have Cascade County auditors and accountants collectively managed by and reporting to the clerk and recorder/auditor which has the potential to compromise and create deficiencies in internal controls,” commissioners wrote in their agenda report.

County auditors, under Rina Moore, former clerk and recorder, uncovered financial mismanagement during Alluvion’s split from the county; embezzlement at Montana Expo Park that resulted in termination of the director and a lawsuit; and improper spending in the county’s aging services department years ago, as well as financial mismanagement at the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office that led to criminal charges in different cases.

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Since the county’s budget officer was retiring, commissioners have decided to create a chief financial officer for the county and a finance department that will report directly to the commission.

The accounting staff will be moved into that department, according to commissioners.

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Commissioner Joe Briggs said he talked to accounting staff about the change on Jan. 9.

Commissioner Rae Grulkowski, who was elected in November, said she supported the change.

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Commissioner Jim Larson said they’ve been talking about the split for years and “now seems to be the right time.”

One member of the public spoke during the meeting, in favor of the split.

Briggs told The Electric that the commission was still finalizing the job description for the finance director position.

He said that the change impacts four accounting techs stationed at departments around the county and two accounts and the accounting manager in the downtown county offices.

The accounting techs and accountants report to the accounting manager.

Once the new chief financial officer is hired the accounting manager will report to that person, who will report to the commission rather than the elected clerk and recorder.