An independent review into how cash transactions are handled in the Erie County Clerk’s office is finally complete, a year after County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs said he uncovered a lack of checks-and-balances in the department.
Jacobs recently reported that an internal risk assessment conducted by the certified public accounting firm of Tronconi Segarra & Associates also offered some new safeguards for the Clerk’s Office to follow.
“Although the final report is just being released, we have implemented most of these recommendations over the last year, many are complete, including the conversion to a standard double-entry accounting system,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs requested the review after he said he found rooms filled with deeds and mortgages that had not been returned to county residents for over 1½ years after they were issued. He said he made the discovery shortly upon taking office in January 2012. In addition, Jacobs said, over $3 million in checks had gone unprocessed up to six months after the Clerk’s Office had received them.
Even more disturbing, Jacobs said, was the discovery that the Clerk’s Office had no real accounting system for the over $60 million that passes through the office annually.
“We were shocked to find out the way these funds were accounted for, with a ‘homemade spreadsheet,’ not a legitimate ...system,” Jacobs said.
Prior to his call for an independent review, Jacobs said there were no checks-and-balances in terms of a standard double entry accounting system in the Clerk’s Office.
“Literally all it would take is this one person altering the formulas in the spreadsheet and it would be next to impossible to know money was being diverted,” he said.
In October 2012, the Legislature, at Jacobs’ request, authorized County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to sign a contract with Tronconi to review cash collections and disbursements that were made within the Registrar Division of the County Clerk’s Office from January 2011 through September 2012. The review by Tronconi found no evidence of malfeasance, Jacobs said. However, the clerk said, it supported his concerns that the accounting system within the Clerk’s Office was highly risky.
The Registrar Division processes about 17,000 transactions a month and records cash receipts of about $5 million monthly, according to Jacobs. Last year, he said, the Clerk’s Office generated more than $9 million in revenue, which goes to the county’s general fund to support county services.
“Without these funds, Erie County would be in dire financial straits,” Jacobs said.