Two Sedgwick County commissioners recently asked an independent auditor to dig into a mix-up involving paramedics' salaries without consulting the other three commissioners or voting in public to do so.
That has irked their colleagues.
The county has not received the bill for the audit requested by commissioners Kelly Parks and Karl Peterjohn, but chief financial officer Chris Chronis said he expects to get one. The county's finance department estimated the review could cost about $900.
Peterjohn said he thought the problem — involving the way paramedics' hours were calculated — carried a big enough price tag to justify a closer look.
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But commissioner Dave Unruh voiced his frustration Tuesday about not being involved in the decision.
The request for an independent audit, he said, "seems like something we should have all known about. There was no vote to spend the money."
In an interview later, Unruh added: "I don't think that's the way government is supposed to work."
Under state law, county commissioners are supposed to conduct business as a board. Individual members can't bind the county to contracts.
The county has a contract with Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, a Wichita CPA firm, to conduct an annual audit.
Parks and Peterjohn told Unruh that they thought the review would fall under the county's contract. But the review by Mark Dick, executive vice president of Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, was outside the scope of the annual audit, Chronis said.
Peterjohn apologized to his fellow board members Tuesday.
He said after the meeting that both he and Parks had some concerns about the problem, which dated back to 2007.
County staff recently discovered that personnel costs for EMS salaries were being calculated at a work week of 40 hours. EMS staff work 42 hours a week.
Instead of calculating their salaries based on 2,184 hours annually, the county was budgeting salaries based on 2,080 hours. Paramedics got paid what they were supposed to, but it cost the county more than was budgeted.
No one noticed the problem before, Chronis said in a June 26 e-mail, because savings from staff turnover absorbed the extra hours.
But this year, people are holding onto their jobs because of the economy, and the turnover rate is low. So the cost of the extra hours was noticeable.
Chronis and his staff have estimated that personnel expenses for EMS workers will be more than $300,000 higher than budgeted for this year.
Peterjohn said that amount was high enough for him to request a review.
"It raised some questions on whether we had exposure anywhere else," he said.
Peterjohn, who is chairman of the board, said he didn't consult all of his colleagues or ask for a vote because he didn't think there would be a cost incurred. He also said he thought it was necessary to act fast because the county is preparing its budget for next year.
In a July 6 letter to Peterjohn, Dick wrote "the error appears to be an isolated incident and is not a systemic problem . . . "
He attached the e-mail about the problem he had received from Chronis and said Chronis' explanation was a "thorough description of the cause of the error."
Unruh said he didn't understand why Parks and Peterjohn would think the review would be free.
"Anytime when I've called a professional person, the minute the phone rings," the clock starts ticking, he said.
Commissioners Tim Norton and Gwen Welshimer said they also didn't know about Parks and Peterjohn's request for a review.
Norton said it caused him "some heartburn."
Welshimer said, "I think we just made something out of something that didn't need to have something made out of it."
The audit was not the first time individual commissioners have directed outside companies to perform work.
Welshimer asked jail consultant Justice Concepts Inc. to travel to Labette County to tour a former state prison, work later determined to be outside the firm's contract.