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County clerk not happy with the mishandling of funds

KINGWOOD — Preston County Clerk Linda Huggins said she is not happy about a $500,000 miscalculation.

During an interview, Huggins said she was told the commission had more money than they ever had and it was accumulating a lot of extra money in carryover. She said she wondered what they were talking about when the they hadn’t increased the tax rate.

“We only know what we get from the sheriff’s office. We don’t see the money; we just see the receipts,” she said.

The money is from an excess levy that was put into the wrong county fund. It is now being corrected.

During the meeting, Huggins said the commissioners and the sheriff knew about the money. She said monthly reports were not being submitted so she reported it and the auditor told her that was not her duty.

Melissa Hardy, a CPA working with the sheriff’s department, said both she and Sheriff Paul Pritt are aware of the urgency in correcting the problem.

“We are going back through information from prior years no one else has looked at,” she said.

Sheriff Moe Pritt said the $500,000 is basically money from the fire excess levy that they were told to put in the general county fund. He said he later found out a percentage should go to the local fire departments.

“It was a misdirection of where the fees were to go to based on advice at conception,” he said. “We want to make this right. I don’t want to put my name to anything that’s not right. We have a CPA working on it and we sent out pages and pages of numbers. Some of the stuff was from 2006, 2011 and 2018. We’ve identified the problem and we’re trying to fix it,” Pritt said

In other business, Preston County’s 89-year-old courthouse is about to be reconfigured inside. The construction is necessary to meet the Supreme Court’s requirements to accommodate a second circuit judge who will take office in 2025.

The Mills Group is working with the commission to do the work.

According to its web site, the Mills Group of architects, designers, planners and historians collaborate with their clients to improve communities through the latest design techniques while reserving the architectural character of the past.

The current courthouse took the place of the one that was torn down in 1933. The sandstone for its facades was quarried locally, and the final cost of the courthouse was $113,500.19.

It was dedicated Aug. 25, 1934.

Magistrate Bo Ward, speaking as a citizen and not a magistrate, told commissioners he wanted to propose a new plan for the courthouse changes that would save taxpayers money.

He said even though the magistrate court is housed in the courthouse, members of that court have had no say in the reconfiguration plans.

“We had two people at the reconfiguration meeting but they were told they couldn’t be there,” Ward said. “We were not included in any of this.”

Commissioner Hunter Thomas said until an architect looked at Wards plans, no changes can be made.

“Our plan was approved by the Supreme Court, but some things can be tweaked,” Commission President Samantha Stone said.

Commissioner Don Smith said the plans had to be very explicit and the architects (the Mills Group) had to go to the Supreme Court to get the sizes and what was needed.

County Coordinator Nate Raybeck said the commission received a $100,000 grant based on the current architectural design.

“Isn’t grant money taxpayer money?” Ward asked.

No further action was taken.

The next meeting of the Preston County Commission will be 9:30 a.m. Monday.