Payson schools came up with a spotless state audit.

Well. Almost spotless — so long as you don’t ask questions about fixed asset tags.

Turns out, one board member asked questions — which led to the saga of the missing garbage disposal — but more on that later.

Point here is that the district’s got a $14 million annual budget, Lord knows how much stuff — and has nonetheless maintained a sterling reputation with the state auditor general.

“For three years in a row, we’ve had zero audit findings, which is really wonderful,” said district finance director Kathie Manning.

Still — several board members had a few niggling questions — like the notation that 20% of the fixed asset tags were incorrect.

“I was going through the report and it said the tag numbers did not agree with the items for one out of five items on the asset list,” said board member Barbara Underwood.

Manning was ready for the question. “Barb was asking whether that type of improper process can lead to a fixed asset disappearance. And yes, it can.”

Ah. Hm?

Goes like this. The auditor asked the district to produce five randomly selected, tagged fixed assets — each with a bar code linking it to the inventory. Turns out, one of the five items had the wrong tag.

Don’t sound so bad after all.

But the steely-eyed Underwood got to wondering about all those piles of carefully tagged fixed assets, which prompted her to ask questions about an odd item on the consent agenda involving some missing items including a plasma cutter, two computer laptops, an ice machine — and wait for it — a garbage disposal.

Underwood said, “It brought a concern to me that I don’t know what we’re doing with our inventory. I kind of don’t understand how we can be missing computers and ice machines.”

Manning was calmly ready for the query.

“I know the board probably has a mental picture of probably how we inventory things in the classroom — and some of you have histories of the process that used to take place.”

As you may have suspected by now — things have changed and it’s complicated.

The district has a fixed asset inventory for items worth more than $5,000 and a stewardship inventory for things worth $1,000 to $4,999. Principals also keep lists of stuff in the classrooms worth less than $1,000.

“When I first came to the district, we didn’t have an inventory,” explained Manning to the carefully listening but faintly befuddled board members. “We did hire a consultant to help the warehouse to begin the process of inventorying assets and purchased scanners and software. We hired them four years in a row, so I was like, ‘where are we with learning the process’ and the warehouse technician said, ‘I can’t do this, it’s above my skill level.’ So we removed that responsibility out of the warehouse to the accounting coordinator.”

Are you following this?

Long story short, for the last five years some stuff keeps showing up on the missing list. So now the district’s stopped listing stuff it just can’t find, starting with the plasma cutter in the woodshop, the ice machine and, of course, the garbage disposal.

The two computers were bought about 10 years ago and would have been all but worthless by now. The plasma cutter was purchased for the wood shop in 1996 and no one has any idea what became of it. The ice machine most likely got left in Frontier Elementary School when the district sold the place. “No one told us where they put it and we can’t find it and it’s unlikely that we ever will,” concluded Manning.

All of which brings us to the garbage disposal.

“Now, this is interesting,” said Manning, sounding sincerely interested. “Obviously, garbage disposals are in the cafeteria. They’re supposed to be part of the building. So there’s not going to be a (fixed asset) tag that we’re going to find that says, ‘Here’s your garbage disposal.’ It’s probably still there, but we’re not going to be able to see it because it’s not visible.”

The search for the invisible garbage disposal proved one of the more entertaining diversion in an otherwise sober, four-hour meeting.

The response to Underwood’s question also calls to mind the adage: Be careful what you ask for.

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