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Controller defends office

Published August 19. 2010 05:00PM

"I am imploring our board of commissioners to set aside this personal vendetta that exists for me and instead step up and perform your duties as elected county commissioners," Controller Melinda Kantner commented at the conclusion of the commissioners' work session held Wednesday at the Schuylkill County courthouse in Pottsville.

Kantner continued to criticize Samuel Deegan, the auditor who was hired by the commissioners to perform an audit of the county financial transactions for the past year. The audit was due to be completed July 1. She accused Deegan of breach of contract, claiming he had not adhered to the contract time line.

Kantner defended her office, which was attacked at a recent commissioners' public board meeting last week by Deegan, who claimed the books were not kept up to date.

"Allow me to emphasize that I have not altered the accounting system for the County of Schuylkill since taking office in 2008," Kanter stated. "In 2006, nearly $1 million was wasted in an attempt to switch to New World Systems accounting system. Employees of the controller's office, MIS department and other offices warned that the new system would not be as effective and efficient as the county's existing system. Our books are in good shape, we have never had a problem with any outside entity performing independent audits for any departments or agencies in the county, whether that be the Office of Auditor General or any other auditing firm."

Kantner inferred the commissioners hired Deegan in an attempt to "bring the controller's office to its knees." She was critical of the commissioners in removing an auditor from her office, which left her office with only one auditor.

"The county taxpayers are not getting their money's worth," Kantner said. "If this BOC (Board of Commissioners) is truly serious about saving taxpayer dollars, let's look at cutting $80,000 for taxpayer-funded cell phones, placing professional services, which are typically awarded to the same entities over and over. Let's overhaul the grant management system in the county. State and federal funds have to be returned if those funds are inappropriately utilized."

Kantner also attacked the commissioners action pertaining to retirement of bond issues, claiming when the commissioners retired early three bond issues they failed to collect the entities' share of interest over the life of the bond. In 2009, SCIDA, SEDCO and Penn State were allowed to pay their principal portions early, but were not made to pay the interest, which amounted to $754,008.91, "which has to be picked up by the county," she claimed.

Returning to the audit, Kantner said, "I have been requesting a meeting with BOC and county administration since July 30 to discuss the issues outstanding with the county's single audit, and I have yet to receive a response. It is apparent that additional audit prep work, at a minimum, will be required to assist Deegan's firm with this audit. An outside firm must be engaged to complete financial statements and preparing audited figures necessary for the annual state report."

Kantner made a final plea to the commissioners.

"Please set aside this vendetta for me and recognize that the county is risking receipt of state and federal grant funds and qualifying for future bond issues if our single audit report is not filed in a timely fashion."

Mark Scabinsky, county fiscal administrator, said he has not made a decision at this time on hiring another firm to assist, but it is under consideration. Commissioner Francis McAndrew accused the controller of "stonewalling every effort of the auditor to complete the audit."

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