Surtax audit put off for now

Almost a year after the first indication of a problem with the Cole County surtax formula, one question remains unanswered: What are the actual numbers that everyone owes the county or is owed to the county?

With that in mind, Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher requested Thursday morning at a commission meeting the panel investigate the possibility of hiring a firm to perform an audit on the 20 years of incorrectly dispersed surtax funds.

“I think the county messed up 20 years ago,” Hoelscher said, “and I think it is our responsibility to get this taken care of before we spend a lot of money in court.”

Hoelscher said he believed the audit would confirm the number, which was one of the major sticking points of the Blair Oaks School Board over a settlement with the county.

But his idea did not gain much traction with others at the meeting.

Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger and Cole County Collector Larry Vincent both agreed a new audit would be unnecessary and expensive, given the fact that the county has already employed the services of Williams Keepers, LLC, to verify the numbers.

“First off, not a full-blown audit is at the recommendation of Williams Keepers,” Vincent said. “They don’t feel that is necessary. To some degree, the only step that is being left out is as the money comes in the door, and that is basically audited every year when we have our county audit. We audit the money as it comes in the door.”

Vincent went on to say he believed the numbers provided by Williams Keepers will be sufficient to satisfy the requests of Blair Oaks. Hoelscher was not as certain, and questioned if it would be official enough to meet the requirements.

Ellinger agreed the level of credibility Blair Oaks will require is unclear, but that there is still one potential fact that everyone involved needs to understand.

“If everybody and God agrees to the number and Blair Oaks still refuses, that shows you that they don’t have any interest in agreeing to a number,” Ellinger said.

“Ultimately, I can tell you there is only one way to get a set number that can’t be challenged, and it is the way that we are trying to avoid getting there,” he added, referring to litigation.

The commission put off a decision on a full audit until the figures from Williams Keepers are presented and the Blair Oaks School Board decides if the numbers are credible.

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