Anderson County officials were apprised Monday, June 12, in a finance committee meeting by finance director Natalie Erb that the county’s purchasing and finance departments have made some changes to the county’s procurement or purchase card system.
These changes are not, however, a significant overhaul of the way things are formerly done, and that the changes the finance department are requesting are merely updates and minor additions and revisions to existing policies, Erb said.
“The finance department is requesting, at the minimum, that we update the current card policy. There’s not a significant overhaul. Basically, it’s updating the name of the department and some contact information,” stated Erb.
Erb explained the finance department’s request is to make some minor modifications to the p-card policy processes that are currently “in place.”
“Commissioner [Tracy] Wandell, in an email a couple of weeks ago said, ‘I do think the finance committee should immediately suspend all cards and reissue cards only to department heads and those in emergency service organizations that require the ability to purchase in an emergency. I wanted to adequately reflect Wandell’s desire,” said Erb.
Changes the purchasing and finance departments have made so far include having the cardholder pick up the p-cards in person before making a purchase with the card, and eliminating the use of “blank purchase orders” (situations where the cardholder opens up an account on the p-card at the beginning of the fiscal year with a certain amount of money on the card to use the money for purchases throughout the year without specifying what the purchases are for on the front end).
“We’re asking people to itemize what they’re going to use the p-card for,” Erb said. “On the purchasing side, if the current vendor will accept the purchase order, we aren’t using the SunTrust card for that. We’re going to the vendor and issuing a requisition or purchase order with that vendor, so we’re taking that volume off the SunTrust bill.”
If the county decides to shut the p-card program down temporarily and re-open it for department heads and emergency personnel use, Erb suggested there may be “unintended consequences” to the other cardholders “who are using the p-card system for legitimate operational program needs.”
“I know the program, in certain areas, does have efficiency,” she said.
“I hate to shut down a program that has been a benefit. I know the schools are one of the number one users, but if we could have, like any other policy, times of review...if we could do that I think in this day and age it serves an efficiency purpose for the entire government,” said Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank.
The mayor responded to the allegations she and other officials have heard as of late surrounding the county’s p-card use, and offered some explanations following her review of some of the suspicious transactions.
Frank said she reviewed the Anderson County Emergency Services Department since it seemed to be one of the departments most singled out for misuse of the p-cards, and said the purchases were used for legitimate expenses.
“It looks like someone from EMS is going into a gas station or convenience store and buying Funyuns and Coke, but if you pull the receipt from Lee’s market, for example, you will see they are buying hi-def fluid for their ambulances. They used to keep hi-def fluid onsite, but what happened is it crystallized and the air filters had to be replaced, so they started buying it as a per--as needed--basis. It’s a requirement they put it in their gas tanks,” Frank explained.
In terms of saving the county money, Frank said she thinks the p-card system has been a benefit to the county overall instead of a burden.
Erb further apprised finance committee members that the purchasing department has been seeking information on each individual cardholder’s p-card usage. Purchasing department employee Katherine Ajmeri has spoken with every cardholder in the past month about their card usage, asking every cardholder to justify why they need a card to make purchases, she said.
“Was any fraud or misuse or anything identified associated with the p-card system?” questioned Dist. 1 Commissioner Chuck Fritts.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to go in and look at transactions,” replied Erb.
“In my almost 15 years on commission I’ve never knew we had that kind of problem with the use of the p-card,” Fritts said.
“Even though finance and purchasing are doing a review of the system, we’re not necessarily auditing it and looking for waste,” Erb said.
According to Frank, some of the county’s purchases that were published on the list of transactions SunTrust, the bank the county has had a contract with for the p-cards, sent to Anderson County officials last month to review included a few reports of fraud.
“In terms of fraud, some of the purchases that were actually published in that list from SunTrust, those were fraud. I mean, they’re listed on there. The fraud reports or misuse was filed with SunTrust, so there were some times where people were like, I mean I think even David in Public Works, someone got his number and purchased something in North Carolina...there’s no way to remove those off that list, but the county did not pay for those and SunTrust reimbursed because it was fraud from SunTrust’s perspective. That’s kind of the rest of the story that doesn’t get told,” Frank said.
Anderson County Tourism Director Stephanie Wells, who was also present during the finance committee meeting, told officials she believes the p-card program is a good thing for the county because it has put in place more controls on spending than what existed before the county went to using p-cards.
“When you put a purchase order in place there’s actually more controls now than there used to be before the card,” said Wells.
A motion was made by finance committee chair Myron Iwanski, Dist. 8 County Commissioner, to have the finance department put together a policy shifting more accountability on employee p-card use to department heads “so there’s a paper trail they are [department heads and elected officials] required to be involved in with every p-card use.”
If an employee is going to have to have a p-card then the department head has to approve it, he said.
The motion passed unanimously in finance committee.