At the Aug. 27 Seward County Board of Commissioners meeting, the issue of grant funds came up once again.
County Treasurer Bob Dahms explained that when the County Attorney Grant Fund, Emergency Management Grant Fund, E911 Grant Fund, Road Grant Fund and Miscellaneous Grant Fund were created only federal and state grant, FEMA funds and funds approved by the board were supposed to be placed in those funds.
Dahms said some time around 2015 was when some funds, other than the approved funds, started entering the grant funds.
“I suggest the state and federal funds are the great grant funds and everything else goes into fund 100 (general fund),” he said.
Dahms said program costs for the diversion programs are entering fund 2500, or the County Attorney Grant Fund.
“I think things are getting messy, and I think if you have a grant fund, only state and federal grants, and FEMA should go into those,” Dahms said. “It is up to the board.”
Commissioner Chairman John Culver asked if another fund would have to be set up for interlocal agreements. Dahms said that other department put their money into the general fund.
“I don’t see any problem with those going to fund 100,” Dahms said.
County Attorney Wendy Elston said the board was talking about putting funding sources into a fund that she would not have access to.
“I’d like to say that I would never have guessed that almost a year after Bob Dahms called my office and yelled this is ‘war war war,’ that I would be here today discussing moving funds,” Elston said, “monies that help the citizens in Seward County with self-funded diversion programs and other services provided by my office.”
Elston said her office brings in $1.2 million in grant and interlocal funds which have helped serve multiple citizens.
“We have served 225 children in the last two years with the attendance support program...serve 118 youth and 375 adults all primarily because of grant money and interlocal funding,” she read from a prepared statement. “Yes there are some taxpayers’ funding that pays for some of this but not anything in comparison to the $1.2 million that has been brought in.”
Elston said the money brought in also helped county employees by funding the Employee Assistance Program and helped furnish the justice center.
“I have asked that the money be transferred to an interlocal fund instead of a general fund that would basically pay for gravel or other things that are not helping more services. The request was denied two weeks ago,” Elston said.
She said she would like to make the request again.
Dahms said he wanted to address the war comments.
“Lets start with NPAIT (Nebraska Public Agency Investment Trust). On March 26 (2018), her deputy, chief deputy, denied placement of our name on what the attorneys for NPAIT said it should be,” Dahms said. “They also received a letter on March 28, 2018, Wendy OK-ed it and signed it.”
Dahms said he called Joe Dalton, chief deputy to the county attorney at the time, to ask him about the letter.
“I said ‘what’s your reasoning on that?’ He said ‘because if we didn’t do that you could appoint your wife and embezzle money.’ That’s when it started,” he said.
Around the same time, Dahms said, Dalton was falsifying travel claims.
“My deputy and I have a meeting with Wendy Elston. I told her what was going on and I said if nothing was done I was going to push it. Nothing was done,. Her comment on that was she approved it,” Dahms said. “So I have no respect for that office. They accused me of possibly embezzling and look what they’re doing, and that is how it started.”
Dahms, after the meeting explained that Dalton stated on travel claims no county vehicles were available during multiple dates.
Dalton was reimbursed $95.92 for travel for June 19 and 25, 2018, and July 3 and 6, 2018, according to an invoice for reimbursement Dahms provided.
Dahms asked Jeff Baker, who is in charge of transit, if county vehicles were available for those times. Baker, according to emails provided by Dahms, said there were vehicles available for those dates.
Dahms said, per policy, Dalton should not have been reimbursed.
During the Aug. 27 meeting, Paulsen said that the county was not denying Elston her funds.
“It’s the funds that need to be clarified and no fees should be going into these funds,” Paulsen said. “No other department in the county puts their fees into their own department. We all put our fees into (general).”
Elston said she would need a budget increase in order to use the funds needed.
“As you know if it’s in the general fund it’s not segregated and you would have to increase my budget to pay for those,” Elston said.
Elston said those fees pay for the programs.
“That’s why we charge the fees. Those fees help pay for the training. There’s fees that help pay for the drug testing. There’s fees that help pay for individuals to come in and mentor — those children. There’s fees that’s why people pay for these programs,” Elston said.
Paulsen asked if those fees were on top of grant funds Elston’s office receives. Elston said yes.
“It should go into general fund like everybody else’s goes,” Paulsen said.
Elston, again, said the fees pay for the programs. Schweitzer asked Elston if there was leftover money after paying for the programs.
“Yes, and that money is used for future expenses,” Elston replied.
Schweitzer explained that her office brings in revenue that gets put into the general fund.
“I brought in almost $140,000 last year. You can see it in your budget I do not get to choose how we spend it,” she said.
Elston said the situations were different and her funds were above and beyond what she is required.
“That’s your statutory requirement, Sherry, to do that. This is above and beyond. In my office basically I can say no we’re not going to do it and it goes away,” Elston said.
Schweitzer said she has things she does that are above and beyond.
“I made CDs for a company in New York. Yes I can say no more, but we do it and we make $5,000 I know it’s small compared to this but it goes into general fund. I do not take it myself,” she said.
Elston said this was a separate situation and she also charges fees for making CDs but the money goes back into the county attorney’s budget, in the general fund.
“Those $5, that little bit is not funding the county attorney’s budget. It’s just basically bringing in a little bit of expenses. It’s not actually funding an entire program,” Elston said.
Schweitzer said the point of bringing in the extra revenue was to help the county.
“I just read to you how it helps the citizens,” Elston said.
“It helps your office and all of the services, but generally I’m talking about, I don’t see in the budget, and that’s what I do. I don’t see the monies coming in there to help the county generally,” Schweitzer said.
Culver asked Elston to clarify that the Butler County interlocal is the only interlocal currently running still while Crete and Jefferson County interlocals have been terminated.
“So Crete and any funds left over from Jefferson could go into general fund and there shouldn’t be anything associated with those interlocals any longer,” Culver said.
Elston said the money from those interlocals is still funding diversion programs.
“I would request that those monies that were earned pursuant to the contract that was agreed continue as what was set up by these other boards,” she said.
Culver said the current board members are not bound by past boards’ decisions.
“We’re not obligated by them. We’d look at it as this board,” Culver said.
Pretrial Diversion Director Denise Janssen asked how the board would fund the programs if the motion was approved. Culver said the board is discussing the situation.
“That’s what we’re discussing. If funds come out (that) would be one of the things we’d have to look at as an option of moving it into a separate fund just for interlocal monies or other funds other than grants. That’s what we’re discussing if we did do this,” Culver said.
Paulsen asked if the agenda item being discussed meant from this point forward only federal and state grant and FEMA money would be allowed in the grant funds.
Culver said everything in the accounts now would stay and from this point forward only state and federal grants and FEMA funds would be allowed into the funds in question.
Paulsen moved to only allow state and federal funds as well as FEMA and funds approved by the board in the accounts and included no fees.
Commissioner Bob Vrbka seconded Paulsen’s motion. The motion was approved by all, except Commissioner Ken Schmieding who was absent.