A 2020 Audit Report of the City of Laurel's financials revealed several former city employees were still receiving benefits from the city's benefit package.
On Wednesday morning, at a regularly scheduled Laurel City Council Meeting, officials addressed the problem and sought solutions to fix the irregularities.
The Audit Report used the term 'terminated' employees, but as Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee pointed out, the term was not entirely accurate.
"One thing I would like to say is that the term 'terminated' is used in the Audit Report, but these were not all terminated employees," said Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee. "These were employees who left the employment of the city. Some of them resigned and went to different positions. Several of them were police [officers] who went to work for the Sheriff’s Department, and one was a young lady who went to the school system. So they are not all terminated. The audit department used the term, terminated, but not all were."
The Audit Report found that around $9,000 in overpaid benefits went to employees no longer with the city. Human Resources Director Nellie Satcher said that over $5,000 has been recouped and refunded back to the city since the finding.
"First of all, let me say that this is not something we were trying to hide or sweep under the rug," said Satcher. "We did not know this was going on. I am glad that the city hired an [independent] audit group to perform an audit to see where our imperfections are. That is what it's for. That is what we needed to do.
"In that finding, as Mary Ann Hess stated, we did find and see that the process we had in play was not a strong one. So, it was not something that was done intentionally. It was something that happened, and when you've worked like I have with several entities, and they were all fully insured and not self-insured, you're going to have some errors that happen. But I can honestly say that we have found the imperfections, and we are working on putting a new process in play.”
Four of the former city employees were discharged, four were former city employees who had retired, and the rest resigned and went to work elsewhere. Ward 5 Councilman Stacey Comegys asked Satcher several questions regarding how the problem can be fixed and not repeated.
"My question is how will the new process be different from what we were doing before," asked Comegys.
Satcher answered by saying that the past employees, who were receiving city benefits, were taken off the list and turned over to the Financial Clerk's office, who will oversee that whatever needs to be done will be taken care of.
"I appreciate you answering those questions for me," Comegys added. "I wanted to be sure we all have an understanding of what is going on because it did cost our taxpayers some money. I know it was only $9,000, but we still are responsible for taking care of our taxpayers’ money."