Yesterday, Judge Cannon informed the fiscal court of an almost 30 year-old unemployment payment error that has just now surfaced. The error could end up costing the county as much as $12,000 or more.
According the county's insurance provider, state records show that no unemployment insurance payments have been made for any County Clerk employee since at least 1979. This was discovered when Amy Thornhill, former employee of the County Clerk's office, recently filed for unemployment soon after she was not re-hired for 2015. She worked in the office from 2006 until December of 2014. According to Judge Cannon, the state cannot pay Thornhill her unemployment since none has been paid on her behalf, nor any other County Clerk employee.
Whose Fault Is This?
Cannon said that sometime prior to 1979, the Clerk's office turned portions of their payroll duties to the fiscal court. Somewhere in that transfer, the unemployment insurance payments for Clerk's Office employees somehow got lost in transition. The first question that comes to mind, is who's fault is this?
"If we dug around enough, I'm sure we'll find where the ball was dropped," said Cannon. "I think we'd find that it was in the neighborhood of 1979 or so, but nobody ever caught it simply because no one has filed for unemployment since then."
Cannon also noted that at this point, the focus doesn't need to be on blame, it's simply fixing the problem. "Blame is not going to accomplish what we need to do. We need to do whatever it takes to fix it. I'm not interested in pointing a finger at an administration from all those years ago, or the one from last year. It's just as much my fault as it is any administration's fault, because I don't think I would have caught it, either."
How Did It Go Unnoticed?
With all the scrutiny that county government offices often face from state auditors, how did something like this go undetected? Cannon says that more than likely, the auditors are looking for very specific things, most of which are a far cry from failing to make unemployment payments. "I'm sure auditors would never dream of a county government not paying in something like this," he said. "The county writes a huge check every year for unemployment insurance, however, the amount that should be paid on Clerk's Office employees isn't that large compared with the total amount. It's just something that got overlooked a long time ago."
Cannon said that changes have already been made to the county system. He said that each payroll record of all county employees will be examined quarterly to prevent future mistakes of this kind.
What's The Total Bill?
Cannon says that's hard to say. Depending on what the state requires the county to do will determine the final amount. If the county is required to back-pay the insurance from the start of Thornhill's employment, it could be as much as $12,000. There are several variables that could increase that amount as well as decrease it. "In some instances, the state only goes back five years." said the Judge. "If that's the case, we're looking at maybe $8,000 or so, but no matter what it is, we've just got to grit our teeth and do it because we have to fix our problems."
He said everything from this point hinges on what the state decides to do. No one currently knows what the outcome of Thornhill's attempt to draw unemployment will be, or how long the holdup will continue. "The wheels turn slow in Frankfort, and they haven't even contacted us directly, yet. We know what we know right now because of our insurance company, who's working with us."
Darren Doyle, story and photo