Treasurer addresses insurance issue
Union County Treasurer Darren Bailey said last week that his office had uncovered what he said was “gross mismanagement of a county insurance program.”
The treasurer reported the matter in a news release which was issued on Sept. 21.
The matter was addressed at a regular meeting of the Union County Board of Commissioners which was held Friday morning, Sept. 23.
In the news release, the treasurer said that the “decade-long mismanagement has cost the taxpayers of Union County thousands of dollars.”
The majority of the problems centered around an unsanctioned program involving the continued enrollment of former employees in the county’s group dental insurance plan long past the end of their employment, the treasurer reported.
Some of the individuals appear to have not known that they still had the coverage, the treasurer said.
The insurance included both individual plans, currently valued at $19.78 per month and family plans, valued at $64.71 per month.
Bailey said that the program was maintained without the knowledge or support of the treasurer’s office or the current Union County Board of Commissioners.
The office that managed payroll and benefits for the county and administered this program maintained no record of which individuals paid for the coverage, or how much was paid.
The inquiry by the treasurer’s office has uncovered that the majority of individuals included in the program have not paid for the continued coverage, while the others continued to pay the rate in-place at the time they left the employment of the county, regardless of any rate increases over time. When asked about this, most have claimed to have never been informed by the managing office how much to pay, the treasurer stated.
Bailey said the treasurer’s office was required to contact the dental insurance provider, Delta Dental of Illinois, to access current and historical payment and billing information dating to December 2014.
Enough data was gathered to determine that this program has cost the taxpayers roughly $5,000 since that date.
Extrapolating the data for each employee to the best-known last date of employment suggests that these former employees have received benefits paid for by the Union County general fund totaling between $15,000 to $20,000, the treasurer reported.
Other dental insurance-related errors were uncovered during this reconciliation and internal audit process, the treasurer reported.
Four non-general fund-funded departments have been paying an outdated and insufficient amount for dental insurance.
“This error placed undue burden on the general fund, which was forced to pay the difference, while these proprietary funds were allowed to grow. It is unknown when the discrepancy began, though it dates back to before December 2014,” the news release stated.
The practice was stopped by the treasurer’s office in May during the inquiry process, with corrections enforced back to the beginning of this fiscal year.
Representatives of the respective departments advise that they were not informed of any rate changes.
Though the county had received insufficient funds with respect to each of these errors, bills were generally paid in-full because the Union County General Fund was required to pay the balance for every insufficient or missing payment from an entity or ineligible individual on the roll.
“It is unlikely that any money can be recovered for those individuals who did not know they were still enrolled in the dental insurance plan. However, despite now being aware of this issue, no further efforts have been made to remove individuals receiving these inappropriate benefits from the dental insurance rolls, including those who continue to not pay the monthly premium,” the news release stated.
“As a result of this unfortunate situation, the treasurer’s office has been compelled to accept additional duties, including ongoing dental insurance bill payment and reconciliation.”
Bailey said in the news release that he was imploring “those with control to correct this problem, and the multitude of others like it. It is important to remember that this situation is not the fault of the individuals receiving the benefits, but rather another example of mismanagement of taxpayer funds and dereliction of duty. This program was not sanctioned by the current board of commissioners, and requires no action by that body.
“Union County should no longer accept negligence and gross mismanagement. The officials and employees of Union County have a responsibility to serve their people to the highest possible level. The creation of this unsanctioned program and the overall mismanagement of benefits have fallen far short of that charge,” the treasurer stated.
“Over the past several years, some in this county have worked tirelessly to improve services and operations, and have had great success despite sometimes intense internal struggle against positive change,” the news release stated.
The treasurer said that there are problems which “continue to plague the organization. Though these problem points have been identified and communicated internally, and at times symptoms alleviated, the core organizational and culture issues remain. This is a new step in publicly identifying these weaknesses.”
“The public certainly deserves to know what happens with its money, its services, and its government. Together with them, I am confident that we can again turn an area of concern into a great strength for Union County,” the treasurer stated.
“Many of the problems identified through this inquiry were common practice in the past, but Union County has implemented systems to move beyond this level of competence,” the news release continued.
“Special recognition is deserved by the talent and hard work of accountant Angie Coke, and I would also like to thank the Union County Board of Commissioners for their support as we continue to make Union County an industry leader in fiscal operations and reporting.”
(The news release has been posted on the treasurer’s website.)
Matter Addressed at County Board Meeting
The issues which was made public by the treasurer was addressed by Union County Board of Commissioners chairman Richard Cunningham at the board’s meeting last Friday morning. The meeting was at the Union County Courthouse in Jonesboro.
Cunningham noted that the county has been working to update its computer and software technology as part of an ongoing process.
“The board is committed to making the county more efficient,” Cunningham said. He said such work will continue.
Cunningham said that the issue will be addressed. The board chairman also said that he did not think that the actions addressed by the treasurer were done intentionally.
“We will continue to improve the functions of the county,” Cunningham said.