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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Lawrence County Auditor Office and Sheriff Department did not have proper control over grant funds

LAWRENCE COUNTY - JUNE 16, 2023 - Lawrence County office holders did not have proper internal controls over grant funds and other funds the county is tasked with overseeing according to an audit from the Indiana State Board of Accounts.

Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs

The latest audit covers a period from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022 in which Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs was charged with overseeing.

This comes after previous audits that the county overspent about $200,000 in CARES -Act Funds during the COVID-19 pandemic and a retired Lawrence County Sheriff Deputy used Operation Pull Over Grant funds for his own personal benefit over a four-year period under former Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham's administration.

Lawrence County Zephyr looked over approximately 80 pages of the three audits that was released on June 9, 2023, that covered federal grants awarded to various county offices.

The report says due to the lack of effective inventory controls the grant information submitted was incorrect and did not agree with the county records.

The reports identified the following problems:

  • The Community Development Block Grant/State Program and non- Entitlement Grants in Hawaii was omitted which understated the expenditures by $600,000. Additionally, the monies were not identified as pass through to sub receipts

  • The Crime Victim Assistance expenditures were understated by $207,766

  • Seven grants had individually immaterial errors that resulted in misstatements of expenditures that totaled $106,065

  • The errors included incorrect program names, pass through entities and identifying numbers.

The results of this audit report was discussed with Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs, newly elected Lawrence County Sheriff Greg Day, Marsha Phiefer, First Deputy Auditor, Martha Turner, bookkeeper, Lawrence County Commissioners Dustin Gabhart, and Wallace Branham, President Lawrence County Commissioner Rodney Fish, Lawrence County Council President Jeff Lytton, Lawrence County Council member Rick Butterfield, Lawrence County Council member Janie Craig Chenault, and Lawrence County Council member Julie Hewetson.

Lawrence County Council during the 2023 Budget Process

The report states that former Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham, did not have effective internal controls over the Supplemental Annual report submitted to the Lawrence County Auditor's office or monthly bank reconcilements in order to detect and correct errors in a timely manner.

The following deficiencies were found from the Inmate Trust Fund, and the supplemental information provided by Sheriff Branham did not agree with the records either mathematically or substantively. As a result, the report to Indiana Gateway for Government the beginning balance was understated by $21,116. The ending balances were understated by $175,492, $11,129, and $143,247 respectively.

Bank statements were not properly performed during the audit period. Outstanding checks were not cleared and accounted for properly.


During the 2023 Budget process Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs presented the Lawrence County Council with three different sets of numbers and positions on the county's finances.

The Lawrence County Council members were trying to determine whether the county was in a good financial position to give a three percent or five percent raise to both elected officials and county employees.

In the Budget year 2022 all county elected officials received a substantial raise over the county employees. Most of the county elected officials received over a 20 percent pay increase with Lawrence County Auditor Salary increasing from $43,000 to about $59,000 in the year 2023.

Lawrence County Council was only going to give county employees a three percent raise to all employees. However, a second vote gave the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department personnel a five percent raise, and a third vote gave all employees a five percent across the board raise.

Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs told the county council members that the county was in good financial condition to give everyone the five percent raise. This come after Staggs told county council members the county has overspent estimated revenue shares in 2019.

" As chief financial officer, I recommend making cuts that will get you close or below your anticpated revenues for 2023. I would additionally like to add that these revenue figures are estimates, not exact figures. The total ending balance would reflect spending every dollar of the 2022 budget, as well as only accounting for 85 percent of the expected property tax revenues based the 2021 pay and 2022 assessed values," said Auditor Jessica Staggs at the beginning of the 2023 budget process.

Lawrence County council members received three different figures from the Lawrence County Auditor's office throughout the 2023 budget process.

Jaque Clements, Indiana Association of Indiana Counties was summoned to the meeting by Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs and former Lawrence County President Scott Smith to advise the county council on the tax levies during the 2023 budget process.

Clements advised the council there was enough money to approve the five percent raise.

The report from Clements reported a deficit of $335,878 in 2022.

Property taxes have increased 16 to 26 percent for most property owners in Lawrence County in 2023.

The audits have identified that problems exist within the Lawrence County Auditor's office that will need to be addressed to protect the taxpayers.


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