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Wadena County Coordinator overpaid $18,000 in 2018

County Coordinator Ryan Odden

Wadena County Commissioners set a $6,000 cap to resolve a payroll error that overpaid County Coordinator Ryan Odden over $18,000 over a seven-month period.

Commissioners were informed about the error Tuesday during the regular commission meeting. The error started happening shortly after Odden was hired to serve as both county highway engineer and county coordinator, which meant he was receiving two paychecks per period with funds coming from different budgets. Wadena County human resources calculated Odden was being paid an additional $1,200 per pay period.

The result of this overpayment is that Odden plans to pay the amount back in full in one lump sum once the exact number is provided to him, he told commissioners. Commissioners approved hiring Clifton, Larson, Allen out of St. Cloud to perform a forensic investigation of the error and prepare the necessary W-2 and PERA form for Odden, with costs not to exceed $6,000.

County attorney Kyra Ladd laid out steps the board should take including looking into exactly what happened, and identifying how to make sure it does not happen again. She also suggested some plan is in place to handle this sort of situation.

"We need to have some process in place to make sure it doesn't happen again, in order to do that we need to know how it happened in the first place," Ladd said.

She added that there is no policy in place for the board to handle a error like this.

Members of the public and county attended the meeting to share their concerns about the error putting some blame on Odden, human resources, payroll, auditing and commissioners as well.

Verndale resident, Brian Hagen, Wadena County Recorder Soledad Henriksen and commissioner Jon Kangas each shared their concern, while saying they did not put blame on Odden, they noted that if they saw an extra $3,000 a month, that they would be going straight to the human resources. Odden did not bring up concerns of his pay because, as he later said, "This is not my error. Payroll told me, 'this is what you are being paid.'"

He had no reason to doubt that payroll calculated his earnings correctly, he said. And determining exactly what he was being paid was not made easy as he was receiving four different paychecks, punching in using two different employee IDs and being paid from multiple sources within the county budget.

"It's not a nice clean paycheck," Odden said. "My paycheck does not say my exact wage."

That was an issue he hoped could be resolved amongst the other issues that needed to be addressed in the matter.

How did it happen?

It was human resources and the auditor's office that came to Odden with the situation before speaking to the state auditor about the issue a few weeks ago. It was noted that Odden was making less money in 2019 then he was in 2018. Odden just received his W-2 on Saturday and said the error was obvious. He is eager to pay the amount back in order to avoid paying for taxes on money that he didn't actually earn.

Auditor/Treasurer Heather Olson calculated the amount of the gross overpayment to be $18,152. That number was not the same as was determined by the Human Resources department. In order for Odden to pay back the money he said he needs to know the right number. Once he has that, he said he planned to write a check.

Concerning the error, Commissioner Jim Hofer asked how it happened.

Human Resources director Curt Kreklau noted complications in the split position. Kreklau said in putting the information into the payroll system, the system broke its own limits, something it was not supposed to do.

"There was no flag in the system," Kreklau said. It was a technical difficulty.

Payroll coordinator Janet Kern said she caught it while going over last year's numbers. She noted that the switch over in the middle of the fiscal year creating the split position was not an easy one for the system to calculate.

"I should have been checking the numbers every month," Kern said. "I will be running a spreadsheet manually so that we can check every month the salary people ... "

Hagen said that he was very concerned as a taxpayer to see the county paying more money to resolve another issue created from within the county government.

"I get that software sometimes has glitches," Hagen said. "This is something that should have been caught earlier."

Olson said blame could not go on any one person as there were multiple fails along the way. Hofer added that the budget committee also will take a closer look at these budgets in the future.

Commissioner Kangas was concerned that if there is an error with this pay perhaps there is other overpayments in the system. He wanted to see documentation of how this error occured. No documents were shared on the situation during the meeting.

The case appeared to be isolated to Odden's situation, as he stated, he's "probably the most complicated employee" in the system.

Odden said what this error brings forth is a step for the county to bring in different checks and balances to the system to avoid this from happening again. Unfortunately the error comes at a cost, which was still an unknown amount on Tuesday.