Financial auditors Wednesday cited the state Department of Agriculture for a “serious breakdown” in its accounting procedures. It’s a breakdown that included numerous uncashed checks that were left in a safe in a store room in Hartford.
State auditors said in their report 170 checks were discovered at the Department of Agriculture’s Hartford office. The checks totaled $265,105 and sat uncashed in a locked safe for up to five months.
The Auditors of Public Accounts, which performed the review, said state law requires those checks to be documented, and in some cases, deposited to the state’s General Fund, within 24 hours.
“The rules are in place for a reason,” said State Auditor John Geragosian. “The checks could have been cashed. They’re susceptible to theft and fraud. As well as the state’s entitled to have its revenue in a timely fashion.”
The auditors report covers January through May of 2017. The same year Connecticut operated without a budget for more than 100 days as lawmakers struggled to close what was then a $3.5 billion deficit.
In their report, auditors said the money was eventually handed over. The checks were originally submitted to the Department of Agriculture along with applications for commercial feed.
“The employee kept the checks with the applications, rather than accounting for the checks and depositing them,” Geragosian said. “I think it was a case of an employee that did things not the way they were supposed to be doing them, and got busy and got behind.”
In a statement, the Department of Agriculture said “the agency has resolved to improve processes and business functions to prevent similar breakdowns from happening.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said the agency is cross-training licensing employees so that “everyone has the ability to process incoming checks as they are received, reducing any backlog or buildup for any one employee.”
It also said it hopes to move to an online payment system for registrations and renewals in the near future.
Geragosian said the Department of Agriculture followed proper procedures once auditors discovered the error.
“They promptly addressed it in our mind,” Geragosian said. “Luckily, in this case, everything worked out okay. But in other cases it might not. That’s why we’re always concerned with timely depositing of funds. Things can go wrong when it doesn’t occur.”