Government

Linn County to pay all $52,000 in missed IPERS payments following coding error

Supervisors seek answers on how error occurred and how to prevent it in the future

The Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting room is shown in the Jean Oxley Public Service Center on Friday, July 8, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting room is shown in the Jean Oxley Public Service Center on Friday, July 8, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Board of Supervisors will pay about $52,000 to the state’s public employee retirement system, IPERS, for payments missed by the county and half a dozen employees over a 10-year span.

However, while the matter has been resolved, several members of the board are looking to the Auditor’s Office, namely County Auditor Joel Miller, for answers as to how the coding error occurred and, more importantly, how to prevent future mistakes.

“What controls are we going to put in place to make sure that we either discover additional coding errors or put in place a process in which it minimizes the chances of these from happening again so future boards don’t have to make $50,000 decisions based on what happened a decade earlier?” Supervisor Ben Rogers said, noting the office’s last coding error was identified in 2011.

A recent audit by the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System found that — due to a job classification coding error at the Linn County Auditor’s Office in 2008 — the county unknowingly missed about $32,000 in IPERS payments. In addition, six county employees missed another roughly $19,000 in IPERS payments.

On Wednesday, the board decided to cover all costs instead of trying to recoup missing employee payments.

“This has sort of trickled over the last 10 years for employees. They were not trying to game the system, they were not doing anything nefarious, they were improperly coded — they would have had no way of knowing that, they would have had no way to address that, and now here we are,” Rogers said. “This is not their fault.”

Deputy Linn County Auditor Becky Shoop said the coding error took place in 2008, when the job classification code for six corrections officers should have been changed but was not. The staff who worked in county payroll at the time of the error is no longer with the county, and Shoop said it is unknown why multiple IPERS audits did not recognize the mistake until now.

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By law, the county is required to cover all missed payments but does have options when it comes to seeking reimbursements from the employees who did not have those funds deducted from their paychecks over the last decade. Options discussed included sending letters seeking missed payments, paycheck deductions or filing lawsuits to reclaim missed payments.

Supervisor Brent Oleson motioned that the board consider “any and all” remedies to recoup the missing funds.

Oleson said he didn’t want to seem coldhearted on the matter, but he said repaying those funds from the county’s nearly $118 million budget represents taxpayer dollars.

“It’s easy to get mad at the Board of Supervisors because we’re asked to correct it,” he said.

However, the remainder of the board opted to just eat the cost, with several worrying that even sending a letter seeking missed payments could open the door to a legal battle.

“I don’t have a problem with asking employees to reimburse these funds, but I don’t know where it goes from there. My assumption is that the union that represents these employees is adamantly not in favor of reimbursing the county these funds,” Supervisor John Harris said.

Several supervisors said they hope to have a conversation with Miller on preventing future coding errors.

“If this would have been done by employees, something like this under our supervision, I would have never heard the end of it, it would have been in the newspapers, or in emails and all over social media,” Oleson said. “But not a peep from him. No accountability. I think that’s weak and that’s the problem.”

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Miller, who has been critical of board spending in the past, was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting because of a cybersecurity summit in Chicago. In a Wednesday email to The Gazette, Miller said his office has been transparent with the board on the coding error. He argued the board was politicizing the matter ahead of the November general election, where Miller faces Rogers for a seat on the board.

In a statement, Miller again criticized board spending on art projects, including those at Greene Square Park and near the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center — as well as county plans to build an access center for individuals in crisis.

“It’s great the board has a newfound interest in how tax dollars are being spent. They need to apply that same scrutiny to the million-dollar projects they have approved and the millions they want to spend on a mental health crisis center that may be duplicating what the state plans to do, as well as, the recent ($350,000) giveaway to (the Area Substance Abuse Council) that was not budgeted in the general fund,” Miller said in the statement.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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