Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today announced that her Audit Team discovered $1,618.02 in duplicate payments to constables as a result of an audit of the constable payment process. The audit examined payments made to constables from both the Court system and Allegheny County, and looked to determine whether constables were receiving payment from both the Courts and the County for the same services. The “double payments” were caused by inadequate internal controls. Wagner’s team is implementing corrective actions to prevent future mistakes, and will be working with the constables to provide training and ensure corrections are made.
“This audit identified numerous bad practices that have occurred for many years,” Wagner said.
The Court system tracks constable payments and services on a separate, statewide computer system that does not have the ability to share information with Allegheny County, which led to the “double payments.” To alleviate this situation, Wagner has proposed recommendations and will partner with the Courts and the constables to implement solutions. Wagner also added that she is pleased that the Court Administration agreed with her recommendation to share the server fee notice, and has demonstrated leadership and cooperation in strengthening internal controls.
“I do not believe this is a matter of constables trying to ‘cheat the system,’” Wagner said. “It is an example of outdated processes, made worse by multiple layers of government, and a prolonged failure to modernize the system. By implementing common sense internal controls and working with the different government offices, we will be able to ensure this doesn’t occur in the future.”
Currently, constables are to complete itemized fee vouchers for services provided. These vouchers are then, in most cases, submitted to the applicable court for payment, with the courts collecting and disbursing the funds to pay the constables. If, however, the courts do not collect fees from the responsible parties, constables are referred to Allegheny County for payment. However, the potential exists for constables to submit fee vouchers for payment to both the Court and the County because of the lack of coordination between the computer systems used by both governments.
The Audit Team studied 240 payments issued from January 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013, and found that 33 payments, or 14 percent, issued from the County were duplicate payments, which totaled $1,618.02. This is a significant statistical sampling that speaks to a larger problem of internal controls, Wagner noted. Throughout this process, Wagner’s office has also learned that many constables received conflicting directions about how to properly complete the fee voucher and remain uncertain about for which services they can and cannot charge the County.
“Open lines of communication and an all-hands-on-deck approach can go a long way to solving problems,” Wagner said. “I am committed to working with the Courts and the constables to address these issues. There needs to be tighter controls, clear policies and more efficient procedures. My Office will provide education and training to the constables about completing the vouchers, and we will solicit input from the constables about how payment processes can be improved and automated.”
Noting that her Office has recently spearheaded a paperless system for the handling of invoices from vendors, Wagner believes the efficiency and integrity of constable payments could benefit from the same technology.
Recommendations, as a result of the audit, include:
- A server fee notice to accompany each voucher submitted to the Controller’s Office
- This is a document created on the Court system computer that will serve as a notice that fees have already been paid by the Courts or that a specific case/warrant has been referred to the County for payment.
- This document will serve to “bridge the gap” between the Courts and the County in terms of constable payments.
- Education and training provided to the constables
- Beginning this spring, the Controller’s Office will provide mobile training to constables to educate them about which services they can properly bill for and how to complete the payment form.
- The Court system to provide the Controller’s Office with quarterly summaries of payments made to constables by the Courts, which the Controller can then audit to ensure that duplicate payments are not occurring
“There were some bad practices that our audit identified, but more importantly, we figured out how to right those wrongs, so the constables now have a system that they and the public can trust,” Wagner said.
Constables are locally elected officials who serve six-year terms. In Allegheny County, constables provide services related to the Court system including executing warrants, serving subpoenas, and conveying defendants to and from court and prison.