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50 ¢ THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2014 VOL. 19, NO. 29 Audit finds hospital overpaid its staff $180K By Nathan Whalen Staff Reporter State auditors are critical of the way Whidbey General Hospital officials handle the payroll system. In a report released Tuesday, auditors said hospital officials “did not have adequate controls over payroll process to safeguard public resources.” Because of this problem, Whidbey General Hospital made $183,211 in overpayments to hospital employees and staff ac- crued 22.73 hours in unearned time off, according to the report. Whidbey General Hospital officials were contacted for comment, but said they would not be able to provide comment as of press time Tuesday. Whidbey General Hospital employs around 700 people and has a payroll expenditure of approximately $48 million. The audit covers Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 1, 2012. Hourly employees are paid based on time cards supported by an employee badge, which is scanned into an automated system while salaried employees complete monthly time sheets that record and track paid time off. Employees and supervisors are expected to review and approve these records for accuracy, according to the report. State auditors in the report noted several weaknesses when they review the district’s internal controls: • A lack of segregation of duties within the departments of payroll and benefits. • No comparison of paid time off was claimed in time See WGH page 16 Storm wreaks havoc on port floats, wharf By Nathan Whalen Staff Reporter Repairs keep piling up for the Port of Coupeville. The small port district owns the Coupeville Wharf and the Greenbank Farm, both of which are 100 years old, and repair projects needed to keep the historic buildings safe are adding up. The latest project emerged last week after a wind storm blew through Whidbey Island. The blustery weather damaged the moorage floats and the deck and moorage tubs located at the Coupeville Wharf. Estimates to repair the causeway and float deck along with the moorage tubs at the Coupeville Wharf could be $18,000, officials said. Of that amount, $7,000 of the bill covers materials. Port of Coupeville executive director Tim McDonald said the port has to purchase specially treated materials so that chemicals don’t leach into Penn Cove. McDonald presented a laundry list of problems needing to be addressed. Commissioners have budgeted $70,464 to spend on construction, repairs and maintenance through 2014. Several of those projects are currently underway, but some unknowns need to be answered before those projects can be completed, officials said. What might be a pricey project is updating the sewer system for the Greenbank Farm. The current large onsite sewer system was installed by the farm’s previous owner, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which wanted to use the farm as an event venue. Activities at the farm changed when it passed into public ownership and now it is home to Whidbey Pies. Because the system wasn’t designed to handle such waste products, the state department of health is requiring See Port page 16 Ron Newberry photo Kylie Neal reviews orders at Willowwood Farm in Coupeville last summer. A proposed change to open space law could shift tax costs from farmers. Proposed law could shift farm costs By Rebecca Gourley and Janis Reid A proposed change to a law aimed at preserving farmland and open space could result in higher taxes for some Washington property owners, including in Island County. House Bill 2306 would expand a tax classification on land actively used for agriculture, timber production or undeveloped open space. While property tax is generally assessed on the market value of a parcel, the state’s Open Space Taxation Act allows land to be taxed at a lower rate based on its current use, such as farming. Under the current law, if a farming operation is 20 acres or more, the parcels must be contiguous in order to be eligible for the lower tax classification. The bill proposes to take out the “contiguous” stipulation, opening up this tax classification to farms that have multiple parcels that total 20 acres or more but aren’t necessarily touching each other. While the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said her goal is simply the preservation of farmland, some tax assessors worry that the bill may result in an unfair tax shift. Island County Assessor Mary Engle said that parcels under 20 acres would be able to partner with larger farms, allowing them to be See TAX page 16

Whidbey Examiner, February 20, 2014

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