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County board contemplates approving new purchase card policy

October 6, 2018

Platte County officials are in the process of slating out a credit card/purchase card policy that would allow county employees access under a strictly enforced set of rules currently being outlined by Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Lay.

During a recently held Platte County Board of Supervisors meeting, Lay discussed with the board the different options it has in terms of allowing card access. Currently, she said, she knows of one active county purchase card, however, there isn’t an updated policy that highlights user parameters and guidelines in conjunction with mitigating county risk.

By a 7-1 vote – Board Chairman Jerry Engdahl cast the lone no-vote – the board authorized Lay to create two policies for the board to assess and vote on during its Oct. 18 meeting. One would involve a policy geared toward the county having one centrally located card in the county clerk’s office, and the other would revolve around several cards being dispersed to various department heads.

“I have no opinion with what you should or should not do,” Lay said. “I don’t have an opinion, either way, I’m certainly not endorsing it. “I am saying that if you are going to have a credit card you need a policy, and I can try to make it as strong of a policy to protect you as I can legally.”

If the board votes in favor of distributing multiple county credit cards, each card would be in possession of and monitored by department heads to lend out as needed to various county employees. All receipts would then be returned to the supervisor and forwarded to County Clerk Diane Pinger, Lay said.

In contrast, if the board approved a single purchase card to be held in Pinger’s office, department heads and employees would need to gain access from the clerk’s office before moving forward with any transactions.

“I don’t think under any circumstances it’s under your best interest as a county to let every single department have its own credit card. It’s way too hard to keep up with,” Lay said. I would say that if you want to do this in the safest way possible, the best way to do it would be to have one central credit card within the clerk’s office and then any other department that wants a credit card would have to give you some pretty good reasons as to why they can’t go through the clerk’s office to buy the things they need.”

The card, Lay said, could be accessed to purchase fuel for county vehicles, conference registrations with the caveat that all county policies are followed as written, meals excluding sales tax, postage and online purchases according to line items in department budgets. The card could not be used for cash advances, purchase of alcoholic beverages, personal usage, entertainment or any other items in contradiction with county policy, she added.

District 3 supervisor James Scow questioned the amount of liability the board would take on by allowing for a new credit card policy.

“I want to know how the people sitting on this side of the desk are going to be protected,” Scow said. “I would like to see them (card users) have some responsibility and have some consequences in there (written policy) so that if they are not doing their job we don’t pay the price. Whoever is in charge of that should pay the price.”

Lay explained that she wasn’t sure if personal liability could be assigned to a direct supervisor if a card was misused, which is why if the county wants to approve a policy it might be in its best interest to consider one central card, she said.

“Which is why I am telling you – just like with anything else – the more control you retain, the less liability you have,” Lay said. “And so by allowing every office to get a credit card, you lose that control … And I don’t think as a board you necessarily want those issues.

“That is why I’m telling you that if you want to allow this for your employees or your elected officials, but you want to limit your liability, allowing that card to be accessible but not always in their hands is probably the best way for you to retain that control.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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