Douglas County officials are working to ensure that the corporate scandals, accounting missteps and financial freefalls that have befallen Wall Street aren't repeated at the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets.
The county, which can have as much as $30 million in idle funds, is working on a new investment policy to outline detailed regulations for the deposit and investment of such money from the county courthouse, 1100 Mass.
The new policy is being developed by a county commission-appointed Investment Advisory Committee, which will work to make sure that investment decisions comply with state laws and follow other accepted accounting principles.
"It puts you in the first tier of counties, in terms of being proactive and positive," said Tom Singleton, a committee member and certified public accountant who works as the county's auditor. "I think it's an excellent step."
The decision to create a policy came about, in part, because of the county's problems related to the security of idle funds, Commissioner Charles Jones said. A 2000 audit of the county Treasurer's Office found that the office violated two state statutes, including one in which county deposits were undersecured by $2.8 million.
Commissioners recently agreed to switch banks for handling idle funds, including the up to $30 million in tax payments held for the county, city of Lawrence, Lawrence school district and other area governments. Central National Bank took over for US Bank, formerly Firstar Bank.
Pat Wells, county treasurer and committee member, has a "a good working relationship" with the new financial institution, she said, along with a firm grasp of the rules and regulations for securing idle funds.
"I am following, really closely, my bank account amounts daily, to make sure that I have enough pledging," Wells told commissioners, embracing the proposed investment policy. "It's something in writing. It's a tool to have."
Having the policy in place should eliminate any confusion about who is responsible for a variety of contingencies, said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. Written administrative procedures are being compiled to go along with the policy, to make sure finances move as smoothly, efficiently and beneficially as possible.
With tight budget years forecast for 2003 and 2004, he said, it just makes sense to make rules as clear as possible, given the amount of interest at stake.
"It might be $2 million not drawing interest for a week," Weinaug said. "That's a significant amount of funds."
Commissioners set no deadline for completion of the policy but expect that it could be ready for formal approval by year's end. Commissioners also intend to appoint a committee to succeed the Investment Advisory Committee.