New Rogers County Audit Shows Misused Funds, Uncollected Taxes
ROGERS COUNTY, Oklahoma - Millions in misused funds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected property taxes are just a few of the questionable practices the state auditor uncovered in Rogers County.
It's the third report the state auditor has released in just the past few months regarding spending in Rogers County. The first two were for 2011 and 2012; the most recent is for 2013.
It shows the questionable spending didn't improve, at least for one county commissioner.
More than $4.2 million in FEMA money was spent, but on road projects state auditor, Gary Jones, said FEMA knew nothing about.
"What I'm seeing here in this whole ordeal is that a lot of things don't look right," said Commissioner Kirt Thacker.
The money was meant to rebuild a road that was in Commissioner Mike Helm's district, but when county district lines were redrawn, the audit said Helm kept the money to fix whatever roads he wanted.
The road that was never fixed is now Thacker's responsibility.
"I actually found out about that through this audit, I had no idea that a road that was now in my district was slated to be rebuilt with FEMA money," said Thacker. "One of the first things I said was, ‘Well if that's district 3's money, I'd like to have it and redo that road.'"
The audit said the county paid almost $2 million to unknown construction companies with no record of what they money was used for. The auditor said some roads that were repaired in the past two years are already crumbling.
"You'll see where a lot of money was spent on roads that, we believe, that the proper base work, foundation work was not prepared and so subsequently, they're falling apart," Jones said.
The state auditor said the county is also missing out on some big revenue. His investigation found between more than $663,000 in property tax went uncollected between 2006 and 2012.
"It's not fair to the people that pay their taxes to have individuals that don't pay their taxes," said Jones.
He said the county treasurer sends out one notice and publishes it in the newspaper, but takes no other required steps.
"The county treasurer, she's been here for, I believe, 23 years. One of the things the audit doesn't say is that she has probably the highest tax collection rate of any county in the state," Thacker said.
Helm declined our request for an interview saying his responses are in the report.
Commissioner Helm declined our request for an interview, saying his responses could be found in the audit report.
Thacker said once he and the other commissioner realized District 2 money was possibly being mis-managed, Thacker said they took control. He said Helm has still gone over their heads, however, allowing projects to not only start, but also to finish without being approved by the county board.
The auditor said the reports will be handed over to the Attorney General, the Rogers County District attorney, FEMA and Oklahoma Emergency Management. If those agencies determine the auditor's findings are true, it's possible the county would have repay all misused funds.