Pacific County 911 finds ‘big’ error

SOUTH BEND, Wash. — Pacific County Communications made an accounting error that led to spiked costs for local 911 user agencies in 2015.

Earlier, Pacific County’s Emergency Management Director Stephanie Fritts said the error equaled roughly $165,000. However, on Monday County Administrative Officer and Risk Manager Kathy Spoor said the error equaled $176,115.

Spoor said the error was identified during the summer and was announced at an administrative board meeting, although she didn’t remember exactly who was present.

Fritts said the error occurred because the agency’s cost for operating expenses was added twice in budget spreadsheets.

“It was a big mistake,” Fritts said.

Before Pacific County Communications discovered the error, local agencies were overcharged for their use of 911 services. All saw their bill for fiscal year 2015 jump — some by 50 percent.

According to the budget overview, Raymond Police Department paid more than $120,000 for their 2015 dispatch services, an increase of nearly $39,000. The same report stated Long Beach Police faced a hike of more than $19,000 and South Bend police’s bill jumped by $37,000 compared to the year before.

Raymond Police Chief Dave Eastham said to reduce the expense, the department used secretarial staff for many of their calls in place of dispatch.

“It got to the point where each dispatch call cost us at least $20,” he said.

As a result of the error, Fritts said emergency agencies will see much smaller bills for dispatch services next year.

“A mistake like this doesn’t just resolve itself, we will see it carry over into following budgets,” Fritts said. She said she hadn’t made an error like this in her 20 years experience, so she was in new territory.

Spoor said she discovered the error as the county was debating whether to ask voters if they supported a 911 tax increase to help fund dispatch services. Pacific County Communications estimated the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax would collect another $250,000 for dispatch services annually.

Spoor said the county decided to move forward with the tax to create stable funding for the agency and reduce the cost that fell to local agencies.

“We didn’t feel like (the error) was important to voters because the bigger issue is still an issue at hand,” Spoor said, adding that she had said in public meetings Pacific County Communications’ budget problems in 2015 stemmed from a number of issues.

“The cost for dispatch services is still increasing while state revenue is not,” she said.

Fritts said she believed the accounting error and 911 tax increase were unrelated. She said the county has seen their budget costs increase and wanted a way to create a stable budget.

Fritts said the agency has been developing new policies to build a lasting fund balance. She said the first $50,000 gained from the tax will go into a reserve fund for capital purchases.

After those funds are collected, Fritts said at least 10 percent of the money gained from the tax each year would go into the fund. She said administrative board would decide how to use the remaining money.

She suggested the dispatch’s 20-year-old furniture be replaced.

“Dispatch is kind of a dismal place,” Fritts said, adding that there was carpeting on the walls that created a sound barrier. She said she is looking into vendor options.

Fritts built the spreadsheet used to create the budget from scratch. The 12-page document was sent out to the agency’s administrative board and the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office.

Pacific County Communications Administrator David Glasson, who is also the Long Beach city administrator, said it was a mistake missed by everyone.

“It’s a document full of equations that a lot of people were contributing to,” Glasson said. “It was unfortunately just a user error, and it was a big hit that no one caught.”

County commissioners have a separate budget spreadsheet with fewer details that did not include the error, Spoor said.

Spoor realized there had to be an error when she began working with the fiscal year 2016 budget. “It didn’t line up for me, because our county contribution was going to be considerably less next year but staffing and other expenses hadn’t changed,” Spoor said

Spoor said she went over every line item until she realized the agency’s cost for operating expenses was added twice in the agency’s budget spreadsheets.

Fritts said historically, board members have been good at reviewing her budgets to make sure everything added up before it went to the county. It was something she relied on, she said.

“In the future, I know I need to be more diligent,” Fritts said. “There also needs to be involvement from all parties to work as checks and balances and make sure everything adds up. Those are the only ways to prevent mistakes in the future.”

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