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State audit finds numerous management issues in Uintah County

Posted at 5:50 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-13 19:50:04-04

UINTAH COUNTY, Utah — The Utah State Auditor released a report finding numerous problems in Uintah County, although local officials say they don’t agree with all of the findings of the audit, or the way the auditor went about the process.

"We got various whistleblower tips at the beginning of the year expressing concerns about spending activities," State auditor John Dougall told FOX 13. 

In an report over 100 pages long, Dougall outlined 13 issues he found within the county, including no financial control among county officials, improper spending of COVID relief funds, failure to submit federal reports and ineffective management of federal programs.

Uintah County officials are not happy with how Dougall went about his job.

The county has problems with the audit itself, arguing in a response to the findings that it is unlawful for the state auditor to perform a performance or special purpose audit on Uintah County.

"Out of the 13 findings, all but one are either a performance or a special audit," said Uintah County Commissioner Bart Haslem. "Any audit that is being done, there is always going to be, you know, it's left to interpretation. It's the auditors opinion of the information that they’ve received." 

Much of the audit has to do with Cares Act funding, including the county’s small business recovery grants and the use of funds for expansion of a sledding hill.

Read - Hundreds of thousands in federal coronavirus money used to build tubing hill in Utah’s Uintah County

"From our perspective, overwhelmingly, they seem to have a disregard for the federal rules or a significant lack of understanding," said Dougall.

Haslem disagrees with Dougall's assessment.

"We followed the act as closely as we could intemperate it," he said. "We had attorneys and we had an 11 member committee put together, and all went through it."

Another issue the report disclosed was businesses owned by county commissioner's families receiving CARES Act funding and the conflicts of interest were not properly disclosed to authorities.

“The County distributed $117,000 to companies owned by certain County officials and their immediate family members. These related party distributions were not disclosed in the notes to the Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards as they should have been and, these conflicts of interest were not disclosed as required” the findings say.

Haslem fully admits that companies owned by his wife and his son were given money, but he says he recused himself from those decisions.

His wife owns a travel business called New Horizon Travel and his son owns Apex Aviation.

Both of their businesses Haslem says were hurt by the pandemic and became eligible adding “show me 2 industries that were hurt more than aviation and travel.” And he added during our interview “we didn’t just give it to our family members… it was given to anyone with a business license within Uintah County, Vernal City, Napels or Ballard received an application and anyone that lost money during that time received the grant.”

The county admits it is already working to fix problems found in the audit, but there's no easy repairs.

"The things that in that audit, other than the Cares Act finding, we have been aware of for 18-to-24 months. but its been a 50 or 60 year problem," Haslem said.

With all the issues found in his report, Dougall says he's willing to help Uintah County get on the right track.

"I hope to work with the county to help them better understand the weaknesses and opportunities for improvement that they have," said Dougall.

Haslem also wants to move forward and fix what needs to be fixed, but also wants a true assessment of Uintah County.

"All I ask is in those audits, if there is a true problem, let's fix and correct those problems. If there is not a problem, let's at least get the information out there so the story is told truthfully."

You can read the full audit by clicking here.