The North Platte schools has to borrow $3.7 million immediately to cover expenses in coming weeks, in order to compensate for shortfalls from the Lincoln County treasurer’s office.
Finance Director Stuart Simpson said the district has to meet payroll next Monday, and can’t do it without borrowing money. The board authorized the loan, 6-0.
Simpson said property tax revenues for the school district are about $1 million less than last year at this time, when tax revenues should be higher.
He said the district knew for a couple months that property tax revenues from the county were falling short. When the treasurer’s office was contacted, the district was told that the shortfalls were temporary and would be straightened out.
Messages from the treasurer’s office to the school district indicated the new treasurer and staff had to straighten out some things from the previous treasurer’s processes and practices, Simpson said after the meeting.
Lincoln County Treasurer Lorie Kortner, who started the job in January, was fired Monday along with Deputy Treasurer Jennifer Hergenrader. They were escorted out of the courthouse by law officers.
In response to a question from school board president Mike Morrell, Simpson said it could be weeks, possibly months, before the district receives the money it is owed. He indicated that the $3.7 million loan could last the district for four months — the end of the school year — so long as revenues start coming in as projected.
Simpson said the school district didn’t want to have to borrow money to cover expenses, but it no longer has a choice. He said he previously double checked the records and notified the Lincoln County Commissioners and the county attorney’s office.
School board member Matt Pederson said the school board’s finance committee knew about the developing situation, but “we wanted to hold off as long as we could. This is not something we do lightly. We hoped the situation would resolve itself.”
A state auditor will arrive Wednesday to investigate. Former Lincoln County Treasurer Sue Fleck is expected to take over as interim county treasurer the same day.
Lincoln County Commissioner Joe Hewgley said there is no reason yet to accuse Koertner of criminal wrongdoing. A courthouse insider said it would take time to gather the evidence and consider it. Some speculate that Koertner got in over her head and wasn’t prepared for the complexities of Lincoln County, one of the largest counties in Nebraska, with a Class A school, a community college and several smaller schools, as well as other government entities.
Koertner was elected in the May 2018 primary after a spirited campaign. She is a former treasurer of Webster County, a position she held for five years. She worked in the Webster County treasurer’s office a total of 19 years. Koertner’s work was accurate and above-board there, Webster County Clerk Liz Petsch told the Bulletin Monday afternoon.