Wright Board continues to pay for state auditor lawsuit

For the last two years, Wright County has been forced to expend approximately $135,000 of taxpayer money as a collateral damage in a lawsuit between State Auditor Rebecca Otto and the Minnesota State Legislature over the powers of her office.

At the recent meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, it was pointed out that the county continues to pay more than it should due to Otto’s legal action — on two different fronts.

The county has expended roughly $100,000 in legal costs after being named along with Becker and Washington counties in the lawsuit brought by Otto — which she has lost in both district court and appeals court. As part of approving the claims for the week, Commissioner Mike Potter pointed out a line item that shows the county continues to be paying money out as a direct result of the Otto lawsuit.

As part of being in the litigation, which centers on county rights to have a less expensive private audit done, Wright County has been forced to have its audits done by the State Auditor’s Office at a significantly higher cost.

“The state audit is over budget,” Potter said. “I just want to remind the public that the state is doing it and charging a lot more than the private audit firm did. Even though in the whole budget scheme, it’s not large, it’s an overage that is frustrating.”

At the time Wright County got dragged into the lawsuit, which has never been fully explained to county officials – the only mention of Wright County in the court filings dealt with the Drive Wright diversion program – it was having its audit performed by the firm of CliftonLarsonAllen under a contract would have that cost the county $53,000 a year. In the two years the State Auditor has performed the county audit, it has charged Wright County more than $140,000 – almost $35,000 more than it would have cost otherwise.

Auditor-Treasurer Bob Hiivala told the board that his hands are essentially tied as it pertained the last two audits, but reminded the commissioners that the county sent a letter of intent to go back to contracting its own audit starting next year. He added, however, that Otto – who is running for governor in 2018—– has received some pushback after telling Hubbard and Roseau counties that they need to completely re-do their current audits, despite having their audits conducted by a firm headed up by Colleen Hoffman, who spent 20 years in the State Auditor’s Office before going into private practice.

“We do pay our bills, so we did pay the State Auditor’s bill,” Hiivala said. “Just a reminder that for fiscal year 2017 – the audit done in 2018 – we have opted to go back to Clifton-Larson-Allen. We are hopeful that the peer review the State Auditor does doesn’t result in a re-audit, like they’re doing in Roseau County. Roseau County is forced to re-do their audit at their expense.”

The commissioners approved paying the claim, hoping that the roughly $135,000 Otto’s lawsuit has cost the taxpayers of Wright County will be coming to an end.

In other items on the agenda, the board:

Set the schedule for the 2018 budget committee of the whole. The process will begin Aug.30 with the presentation of the initial draft budget, the capital improvement plan and review of appropriation requests. Individual department presentations are scheduled for Aug. 31, Sept. 5, Sept. 7 and Sept. 11-13.

Approved a series of amendments to the revenue and expenditure budgets to reflect changes that resulted in union contracts being agreed on earlier in the budget year.

Referred to the personnel committee a request for an H1B visa sponsorship for a Highway Department employee. The sponsorship is for an employee who is an immigrant in the country under a work visa program. The employee was hired with the understanding that sponsorship would be considered.

Was introduced to Schawn Johnson, the county’s new human resources director. Johnson began working for the county Aug. 14.

Distributed the 2016 highway department annual report. The report will be placed on the Aug. 29 agenda for review and acceptance.

Referred to the technology committee discussion of the status of the Office 365 implementation, the infrastructure resiliency plan and enterprise resource planning.

Approved moving forward with a hydraulic study of CSAH 17 near Delano along the south fork of the Crow River. The slope on the bank adjacent to the highway is eroding due to previous flooding and the bank needs to be built up and stabilized.

Referred discussion of Enterprise Resource Planning, a program to expedite payments of claims as well as consolidating the bill payment system to the technology committee. In a related item, authorized Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala to pay bills as they are submitted rather than wait a week or more to have board approval, as well as authorizing Hiivala to convert employee reimbursement payments to direct deposit.

Set a committee of the whole the meeting to discuss the future of the historic Marysville Township Hall, which is still standing after being constructed in the late 1800s. The meeting was scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Authorized Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice to enter into a contract with SEH Design Build Inc. for the construction of a beach house at Bertram Chain of Lakes Park.

Approved moving the CSAH 12 trail paving project and the local cost share commitment from the 2020 budget year to 2018.

Laid over discussion concerning the costs of making improvements to outlying county highway department shops. There is $1 million in the highway department budget for shop improvements. The delay is to determine how to best utilize those funds.

Authorized attendance at the Association of Minnesota Counties fall policy conference Sept. 14-15 at Breezy Point Resort.