Payment of shortages falls to tax collectors
If Kanawha County tax collectors come up short, it's up to them to make up the difference.
That's personal accountability.
That's also "good accounting practices," Chief Tax Deputy Allen Bleigh said.
The county's policy that requires those who collect cash to make up any shortages dates back to before Bleigh took the position as chief tax deputy, he said.
"We've had this policy in place for a good 12 to 15 years," he said.
It doesn't matter if the cash drawer is $1 or $100 short, the collector is still required to pay the difference out of pocket, Bleigh said. And it doesn't matter who is collecting the money either, he added.
"This policy applies to me, too," he said.
The tax office is tasked with collecting the money to pay for services for all of the citizens of Kanawha County, Bleigh said. This is not a duty that he takes lightly.
"We're responsible for public funds," he said. "We can't tolerate untold shortages."
"If we're short, then that shorts the taxpayers," Bleigh added.
The policy also addresses any overages in collections as well, Bleigh said. For example, a collector whose cash drawer is over by a certain amount is not allowed to bank that money in anticipation of future shortages, he said.
"Any overages are collected and deposited and distributed to the levying bodies," Bleigh said.
Shortages and overages in collections do happen occasionally, he said.
"Does it happen every day?" Bleigh said. "No."
But it likely happens at least once a week, he said.
However, if the shortages and overages happen a lot to one employee, that particular situation needs to be addressed with that individual, Bleigh said. Too many shortages or overages could result in the employee being fired, he said.
"If it happens a lot to one person, then that person either can't do the job right or they're stealing," Bleigh said.
When shortages and overages do occur, supervisors make an attempt to find out what went wrong by reviewing receipts, he said.
Often, the money is recovered in some fashion without requiring the employee to pay the shortage, he said.
The county office does allow employees to pay back large overages over time, Bleigh said.
"I don't demand immediate payment," he said.
Bleigh does not believe the policy is too harsh, despite the fact that the majority of employees in the tax office make $21,000 to $35,000 a year. This is because other private companies also have this policy, he said.
"The employees accept this policy," Bleigh said.
All potential employees are informed about the policy before they take a
position with the office, he said.
Most of the time, tellers at the payment window are the ones who have to deal with shortages and overages. However, the policy applies to anyone, even those collecting payments via mail, Bleigh said.
Stuart Stickel, deputy West Virginia Auditor, said it is not for him or his office to say if a policy is appropriate or not.
However, he did say that his office does expect any overages or shortages to be addressed by the administration.
"We want them to look at what happened and see if there's a problem with
the system or the person collecting the money," Stickel said.
Stickel was unsure if any other counties have policies similar to Kanawha's.