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County department's books being reviewed

St. Croix County is in the middle of a consolidation of accounting functions for governmental business and employees are working through a bit of a mess.

Since the county board voted in August to centralize the accounting staff and standardize its accounting procedures, a few problems were uncovered with the Health and Human Services Department's books.

Tonya Kusmirek, who was hired as the department's financial manager in September, said in reviewing the books for 2010 it was difficult to determine if revenue received was being properly matched to the services provided.

As a result, Kusmirek said, the financial statements being presented to county board members were not clear or accurate.

To fix the problem, the county's auditing firm, LarsenAllen, was brought in this week to help go through the department's books and make sure things are posted properly and a clear understanding of the department's current financial position is developed.

"We're actually going back to January and moving forward," she said. "If we didn't do this now, when the auditors came in next year we would have to do this anyway. We're trying to stay ahead of the curve."

Because the accounting department has been short an employee since April, and because some of the department's accounting work wasn't completed in a timely manner, the issue got worse over time, Kusmirek explained.

Health and Human Services Director Fred Johnson said the process of developing county-wide accounting procedures is challenging but necessary.

"It's a wise move for us to have our financial services consolidated," he said. "When you don't have consistency in accounting procedures, the reports are difficult to interpret. We need to be clear with the (county) board so they know where we're at on a monthly basis."

As part of the accounting shakeup, some employees who used to work at the Health and Human Services office in New Richmond will move to offices in Hudson.

Accounting employees will also be cross training in the coming months, so that more than one person knows how to handle necessary tasks within each department.

"We don't have a lot of redundancy in the system," Kusmirek said. "If one person is out sick or on vacation, we don't always have someone who can step up and fill that role."

Once the training is completed, Kusmirek said, those back-up roles will be established.

"It's what any business would want," Johnson noted. "The system will be less person dependent."

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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