Outside auditors hired to review records of chesco district judges electricity examples

WEST CHESTER >> The Chester County Controller’s Office has begun contacting with outside auditors to handle financial reviews of the county’s 17 magisterial district courts and row offices, a move that is expected will save the office taxpayer funds and allow staff to concentrate on other projects.

Controller Margaret Reif, who took over the office at the beginning of the year, said auditors with the Bucks County accounting firm of Zelenofske Axelrod recently began working with her staff to review the financial records of the district courts, audits of which are mandated by law. The firm had an existing contract with the county, and the county commissioners voted to approve an amendment to the current contract for the expanded services.

Reif said she had suggested the move earlier this year after one of her staff audits had left the office to pursue other career opportunities. Rather than replace him, she said, she found bringing in the Zelenofske firm would save the office almost $30,000 this year and about $10,000 per year afterwards.

The amended contract calls for the outside firm to be paid $2,800 per district court audit, and $15,000 to $22,500 for each Row Office audit — although Rief said she did not anticipate a need for those offices to be reviewed presently by the firm.

Having the Zelenofske firm handle the audits of district courts will free up the staff auditors to look over the systems in place in other county offices and departments to explore “operational efficiencies.” She said her office had already begun a preliminary look at the way the county Coroner’s Office operates and has found ways to make it run more efficiently.

“It’s just a new set of eyes looking at how things work,” Reif said. “We get to look at it from another perspective.” She said she hoped the reviews would be taken seriously and seen as a way to help, rather than hinder, the way things work in given offices. She said Coroner Christina Vandepol had been “very excited to have us come in and look at that system.”

Although each of the offices in the Democrats’ sweep hold significance in their own way in the halls of county government, none is more important than the office of controller. A county controller has the authority to set accounting standards, audit the county’s fiscal records, aid in overseeing its pension plan, and to investigate “fraud, flagrant abuse of public office or any act or neglect of any officer or other county employee,” according to state law.

“I have a pretty full plate,” she said of her three-plus months in office. “It helps that I’ve had a little bit of time to get a better understanding of everything that goes on here. It has been a huge learning curve, since this office has its tentacles in all the county departments. But I feel like I’ve got my feet under me now.”

Reif said that she had experienced a welcome from other county elected officials, even though they are Republicans and she a Democrat. She said that the county appears to be on solid financial ground, but that efficiencies still could be found that would reduce the amount of borrowing she believes the county takes on.

“My job is strictly to find ways to save money,” she said. “I have a good relationship with the commissioners right now, and we have had an open dialogue with other officials. I have not felt any issue with partisan politics. My job is just to do the job, and not partisan politics.”