11/18/09 — Duplin commission hears report on audit of government

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Duplin commission hears report on audit of government

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 18, 2009 1:46 PM

Linda Recio of Evergreen Solutions presented the final report of the Duplin County performance audit to the Duplin County Board of Commissioners this week.

The audit report, conducted over the past several months, contains more than 150 suggested ways the county government and departments can save money and operate more efficiently. The county could save a net of more than $6 million over a five year period, Ms. Recio said.

However, some commissioners had questions about the company's methodology in conducting the audit. Commissioner Reginald Wells said he had hoped for a truly comprehensive audit, but felt that the resulting document showed only "cherry-picked" information. Not all departments were mentioned in the report, he said.

The company reviewed "extensive documents" and interviewed every department head, Ms. Recio said.

"There were departments that did not have inefficiencies, based on our review," she said.

Those departments were not included in the more in-depth research for that reason, she told commissioners.

"I find that hard to believe," Wells responded.

The county jail, transportation services and services on the aging were among the departments not included in the deep analysis of the county departments, he said.

The commissioners had a chance to identify any concerns they had regarding the first draft of the report and did not do so, she said, adding that the approach was the exact same as the one Evergreen used to analyze the Duplin County school system.

But the process does not have to end with the final report, and she will be available in the future to discuss the report with commissioners, she said.

"I don't want to leave you uncomfortable," Ms. Recio said.

But she also warned the board that implementing the suggestions will not happen over night.

"You cannot expect your county manager to implement them all tomorrow," she said.

The Evergreen representative suggested the commissioners begin creating an implementation plan and use the plan to progress toward putting the company's recommendations into effect over a period of time.

The audit, which cost the county $120,000, was nearly 400 pages long. Ms. Recio discussed in brief the major recommendations of the report, which included updating personnel policies, creating a personnel handbook and ensuring that county employees are receiving the right amount of overtime pay in appropriate situations.

Ms. Recio also advised that the commissioners make use of the existing county long-range plan, which is currently underutilized, she said.

The report suggested providing additional training for staff, especially in the use of computers, and make use of work release and house arrest programs to help with jail crowding. Updating the fire inspection guidelines to be more comprehensive, seeking customer feedback on county water and sewer services and creating a county-wide capital improvement plan were additional suggestions.

Wells asked specifically whether the county has too many employees, but based on the comparison with other counties, Duplin is only a little high, Ms. Recio said, acknowledging, though, that the method used for counting the number of employees was itself a concern, as Evergreen discovered discrepancies in how many counties in the state report their employee levels.

"It's like pulling teeth," Dr. Recio said.

"So what you're saying at best, a ballpark figure?" commission Chairman Cary Turner asked.

"Do you feel like Duplin County has a tremendous amount of overload of employees?" Commissioner David Fussell asked.

"Not a tremendous amount," she replied.

Fussell said he would like the commissioners to return with a list of questions and concerns regarding the report before taking action on it, something the Evergreen representative was willing to do.

"We feel very strongly that we want you guys to be happy," Dr. Recio said.

Fussell asked whether the commissioners could meet with her in closed session to discuss the issue, but the board decided that would not be possible. Instead, the board members decided to hold a workshop, as yet unscheduled, to talk about the plan.

"What is the test of the work session, so we can be clear?" Wells said.

The session will be used to prioritize the recommendations, Turner responded.

But the commissioners will have to be the ones to decide whether to proceed with the recommendations, Wells said.

"We're going to have to stand on our own two feet with this," he said.