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County employee recovers $1 million

More than $1 million has been collected in the past two years by the Douglas County strategic finance collections officer.

Phyllis Johnson, who works in the Douglas County Auditor/Treasurer office and is a liaison to the Social Services office, recovers funds from estates to reimburse the county for social services and Medical Assistance benefits, among others.

Auditor/Treasurer Char Rosenow provided an update to the Douglas County commissioners at their regular board meeting Tuesday, March 19.

"She (Phyllis) does a great job with this," Rosenow told the commissioners, noting that there are some counties that don't go after these funds.

Rosenow said Johnson was responsible for the 2017 recovery of funds in the amount of $692,018.55 and 2018 funds in the amount of $464,870.87.

"Please congratulate her on behalf of the board," Board Chairman Charlie Meyer said.

In an email interview, Johnson said that Douglas County ranked 16th out of 85 counties reporting the most funds collected. She collects the money using the probate process or other means. When individuals who use Medical Assistance pass away, she then collects the remaining assets to reimburse the county.

Johnson is notified by the state of what the collectible portions of Medical Assistance are. A lot of funds are no longer collectible because of a law that was changed in July 2016.

"It is very uncommon for me to collect the full amount of Medical Assistance claims for a recipient who has been a resident of a nursing home if they have not exhausted all of their assets prior to moving to the nursing home," she said. "Probate would typically take place when the Medical Assistance recipient has more than $75,000 in assets."

A claim would be filed through the court unless it was less than $75,000, at which point she said it could be collected via an affidavit or by working with the family of the deceased.

As for why some counties don't bother with the collection process, Johnson said it takes a long time to understand the laws pertaining to the job of collections, and the laws are always changing. She said the job is very manual and there are very few tools to help a county with the collection process.

An estate recovery manual has been put in place, which Johnson said was created by representatives from 6-10 counties. Johnson said she contributed the perspective of a smaller county. Mentor/mentee opportunities are there to help those who are new to the collection process.

"If needed, I will go out and train on Medical Assistance recovery," she said. "I was able to get Grant County up and running with collections a few years ago. I will often look to the bigger counties for direction when I run across something I haven't worked with before."

Rosenow said her office will continue to work and try to recover more funds for the county, but that she is proud of the work Johnson has done so far.

Centralized Finance office

Because of numerous questions Rosenow has received related to the somewhat newly-formed Centralized Finance office, she provided a four-page detailed description to the county commissioners.

She said the office was formed because the commissioners at that time felt they were not getting the answers they wanted to finance-related questions from departments. She said the board thought if a centralized location was formed, it would be easier to get the answers they were looking for. The board also thought cross-training between departments, as well as a succession plan, was important.

At the time a committee was formed to determine what duties would stay within each department and what duties would become part of the centralized accounting office, as well as who would stay in each department and who would move to the Centralized Finance office.

Currently, 11 staff members are in the centralized location. Three of those, she said, could retire within the next five years.

"We are staffed appropriately for the duties assigned to the finance office," she told the commissioners.

In other action

The county commissioners approved the following actions:

• Filling a veterans driver vacancy and any other vacancies resulting from the action.

• Applying for a Runestone Electric Association Operation Round Up grant with funds to be used for the Senior Services and Law Enforcement TRIAD conference.

• Preliminary plat, Thomas First Addition, a three-lot plat in Carlos Township.

• Preliminary plat, Utopia Acres First Addition, a one-lot plat in Ida Township.

• Conditional use permit, Christopher Herickhoff/Novel Energy Solutions LLC, to allow a one megawatt solar farm in Osakis Township.

• Conditional use permit, Scott Boesl, to allow the expansion of an existing 99.9 animal unit feedlot to a 299 annual unit feedlot in Leaf Valley Township.

• Conditional use permit, Jeffrey and Julie Boesl, to allow the expansion of an existing 235 animal unit feedlot to a 499 animal unit feedlot in Millerville Township.

• Conditional use permit, Robert and Wilma Wagner, to allow the restocking and expansion of an existing dairy facility up to 200 animal units in Millerville Township.

The board denied a conditional use permit to Viking Investments of Alexandria LLC, to allow the outdoor storage of trailers, trucks and construction equipment in Hudson Township.

In addition, the commissioners were informed that a conditional use permit to allow a 49-unit RV campground in Carlos Township was withdrawn by the person requesting the permit.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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