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DHS forensic audit proposal gets mixed reviews, vote postponed

EC COUNTY GOVT

Eau Claire (WQOW)- After going millions of dollars over budget for several years in a row, facing a million-dollar accounting error and recent charges of theft against a former employee, a request for a forensic audit of the Eau Claire County Department of Human Services went to the Eau Claire County board for the second time Tuesday.

The county board of supervisors ultimately decided to postpone action on the audit until the next meeting on October 6. The original resolution would have authorized an accounting firm to evaluate DHS financial records.

County officials said cumulatively the DHS went $7.5 million over budget between 2017 and 2019, and said during that time, the department added 70 additional staff members, a 45% increase.

The original resolution was for a $100,000 forensic audit of the DHS, however, an amendment was proposed Tuesday that would allow a forensic audit up to $25,000 specifically related to the theft charges, and a separate DHS program audit up to $75,000.

The DHS program audit would be to evaluate how money is being used, evaluate accounting systems and program effectiveness, meanwhile the forensic audit would look for evidence that could be used in a legal proceeding in the case of former Eau Claire County employee Zer Smith, who is accused of using her county credit card to buy personal items.

A number of community members spoke in favor of the audit during the public comment section of Tuesday's meeting, but the original and amended version of the resolution received mixed responses from board supervisors.

"A forensic audit is a way to restore confidence," supervisor Steve Chilson said. "We owe it to the taxpayers to do everything we can, to find out everything we can, and take corrective action."

While a number of supervisors argued in favor of the audit to restore community trust in the department or nail down the exact dollar amount attached to the theft charges, a number of others disagreed, and argued a forensic audit and program audit are unnecessary.

"We don't talk about what human services does," Supervisor Judy Gatlin said. "We don't talk about the this perfect storm that has happened over the past three [to] five years."

Gatlin said this 'perfect storm' for DHS consists of the poverty, meth problem and lack of state funding the county has faced.

This is not the first time a vote on the audit was postponed. The resolution for a $100,000 forensic audit went before the county board at its August 18 meeting, and was postponed to allow the committee on administration to evaluate the proposal. The committee met on September 8, and voted three to two in support of the resolution.

Jess Langlois

Jess Langlois is the weekend meteorologist and weekday multi-media journalist for News 18. She joined us in July of 2019.

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