SYMMES TWP., Ohio (FOX19) - Symmes Township racked up $33,182 in late fees over the course of four years, the Hamilton County suburb’s latest state audit uncovered, Auditor Keith Faber announced Tuesday.
“Late fees do not constitute a proper public purpose and taxpayers should not be on the hook to cover them,” Faber said in a prepared statement.
"I recommend and know that the township has put stronger internal controls in place to ensure bills are paid in full and on time, so residents get the maximum return on their investment in the community.”
As fiscal officer, Carol Sims was responsible for preparing and mailing assessment fund requests to the Hamilton County Auditor for all of the township’s lighting districts, Faber said.
Sims told his Special Investigations Unit she submitted the assessments to the county auditor’s office by standard mail in three batches, but the audit found the county auditor did not receive all of the assessments.
Sims said she realized the assessments had not been received when there was not enough money in the township’s lighting district fund to cover the street light costs billed to the township by Duke Energy, according to Faber.
Since the township did not have the money to pay for street light costs, Sims made the decision to randomly allocate the money available to each of the lighting accounts, resulting in monthly unpaid balances for some accounts, he said.
Duke Energy assessed a late fee for every account that they township did not pay in full each month.
State auditors obtained all of the Duke Energy invoices paid by the township from January 2014, through November 2017 and identified late payment charges totaling $33,182, Faber said.
He issued a finding for recovery against Sims and in favor of the township’s special assessment lighting district to recover the entire amount of the late fees.
Sims has repaid the finding for recovery in full, Faber said.
Tuesday evening Symmes Township Administrator Kimblery A. Lapensee responded to FOX19 NOW’s request for comment:
“Prior to July of 2017, the invoices from Duke Energy for the lighting districts were being opened by the Fiscal Officer. The procedure for opening mail was changed in July of 2017 to require the mail, including the Duke Energy invoices, to be sent to and opened by the Township Administrator. Upon reviewing the invoices, the Administrator discovered the problem with late fees and promptly reported it to the Township Trustees and Law Director. It was found that the late fees were being paid by Symmes Township over a 4-year period (2014 – 2017). As a result, the Trustees and Administrator took immediate action to correct the problem and reported their findings to the State Auditor in 2017. An investigation was launched by the State Auditor and the Ohio Revised Code requires confidentiality during the process until the investigation was over. The Trustees have patiently waited 2-years for the results to become public. A Finding for Recovery was issued by the State Auditor’s Office requiring the Symmes Township Fiscal Officer to repay the township for the late fees, and this repayment has occurred.”