A report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s office found almost $2 million in stolen public funds remains uncollected. Photo credit: finance/morguefile.
Do you know where your money is? Chances are you do, but not all public money in Tennessee is accounted for, according to the Tennessee Comptroller’s office. Nearly $2 million in stolen public money remains uncollected in municipalities and counties from more than 90 Tennessee counties. Jim Arnette, director of local government audit for the Tennessee Comptroller’s office, says in many cases employees have been ordered to pay restitution, but it can take months or even years to collect, and sometimes the clock runs out. “There are attempts to recoup this money,” he states. “Unfortunately, there are some of these shortages after a period of time, the local government will determine they’re uncollectible and will have to write them off their accounting records.” Arnette points out many counties purchase surety bonds, which provide a means for local governments to recoup the shortages through a contracted third party. A report released by the comptroller details examples of theft that include using checks for personal use, cash shortages in public accounts, and personal purchases on government-issued credit cards. Arnette says an effective way local governments can prevent a misuse or theft of funds is to separate job responsibilities so the person spending money is not the same person who is accepting payments. “A classic example of an internal control would be a segregation of duties where the same individual is not responsible for all of the functions associated with an accounting function so the same person is not doing all three of those functions,” he explains.