County may revive purchasing card

Tue, 08/07/2007 - 4:41pm
By: John Munford

Program was axed in 2006 after abuse, but staff says greater control now available

The Fayette County Commission may vote Thursday to revive its purchasing card program, allowing select employees to spend up to $250 on goods and services instead of using petty cash and purchase orders.

The program was abandoned in May 2006 after a two-week period where county employees had spent more than $118,000 on the card, which then-commission chairman Greg Dunn noted as significant since the cards were to be used as “petty cash.”

Among the problems with the program were the multiple swiping of cards to circumvent the previous spending limit on purchases, it was noted at the commission’s Wednesday workshop meeting. But under a pilot program recommended by county staff, that could be controlled, according to Chief Finance Director Mary Holland.

The purchasing cards also were part of the scrutiny that led up to the firing of former County Manager Chris Cofty in February 2005, as the county paid for more than $4,000 in business lunches for Cofty and other employees in the previous two years.

Under the new program, funds to pay the cards would come from each department’s budget, and the department head would be charged with making sure funds are available in their budget for the purchases, Holland explained.

County finance staff will audit one of the departments per period to make sure the rules are being complied with, Holland said. The finance department will also conduct training for proper use of the card to departments and elected officials prior to issuing the cards.

Holland noted that 30 percent of the requisition orders processed by the finance department for 2007 were for purchases of $250 or less, and the department also processed $22,000 in payments for petty cash reimbursements to employees.

Interim County Manager Jack Krakeel said the system should result in a significant time savings for the finance department, and Holland noted that the county’s banking vendor, Bank of America, allows for the purchasing card statements to be automatically reconciled with the county’s accounting system by downloading the information from the bank’s computers.

The proposed program would allow only three departments to use the cards initially: the sheriff’s department, fire and emergency services and the court clerk’s office, Holland said. Later, if appropriate, it could be expanded to other departments including fleet maintenance, buildings and ground maintenance, the water system and other judicial departments, according to an outline of the proposal.

Under the proposal, the department head will choose which employees are issued the cards, and the department head will also be responsible for insuring compliance with county regulations, Holland said. Departments who do not comply with the program will risk losing their purchasing cards, according to the county staff’s recommendation.

Holland noted that each individual employee could be given a separate card number to make it easier to track a card’s activity.

The proposal was presented to the county commission Wednesday afternoon during its workshop meeting.

The card would also be used for lodging for travel accommodations and also for emergency purchases should the need arise, Holland said.

Commission Chairman Jack Smith suggested communicating with the county’s vendors to make sure the county’s guidelines were followed or the vendors could face consequences.

It was also noted at Wednesday’s meeting that although he wasn’t in attendance, Commissioner Herb Frady was expected to have several questions about the new procedure.

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