DuPage County audit report inconclusive on cannabis revenue mishap  

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A long-anticipated report delving into a disconnect on cannabis sales tax revenue between DuPage County and the Illinois Department of Revenue did not give any conclusive findings on what went wrong.

But multiple officials at a DuPage County Board meeting on Tuesday, July 9, vowed such an oversight never will happen again, pledging to implement a series of internal measures aimed at strengthening the lines of communication between the two units of government.

Error first discovered in 2021

DuPage County Auditor Bill White discussed his report with the County Board during a wide-ranging discussion that looked back and forward on protocols at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The objective of the audit report is really quite narrow,” White said. “It’s to evaluate internal controls, regarding the accurate and timely delivery of County Board resolutions to recipients outside the county.”

The report, which several board members have been asking for from as far back as 2022, stems from the implementation of a 3% retail sales tax on recreational cannabis sales in DuPage County in 2019. The tax was to have benefited county operations, though in 2021, state officials revealed paperwork was not filed, and, consequently, the tax was not collected.

Speaking to the report’s contents at the board meeting, White said he was unable to reach a conclusion of what went wrong in sending the necessary paperwork to the IDOR.

“To answer that, the person I need to talk to is the prior CFO (chief financial officer),” White said. “Without interviewing the prior CFO, I can’t answer what prior revenue projections were prepared. I can’t answer why cannabis was not in those budgets. I can’t write an audit finding on that because I don’t have any evidence.”

Paul Rafac was the county’s CFO at the time the tax resolution was adopted. Rafac, who currently serves as CFO and executive vice president of the Chicago Botanic Garden, left the county in March 2020.

County Board weighs in on cannabis tax audit report

During lengthy deliberations, County Board members gave varied views on the report, with several asserting it fell short of what they were seeking.

“I can’t believe we waited this long for this report,” District 6 commissioner James Zay said. “I guess you gave it the old college try, but we’re no closer to knowing anything about how this happened or why it happened.”

Zay also said he was displeased with a perceived lack of accountability in various county offices on the issue.

“This is a black eye for DuPage (County),” Zay added. “I’ve never seen a bunch of finger pointing and blaming everyone else and no one taking any responsibility whatsoever.”

District 4 commissioner Lynn LaPlante said she was “waiting with baited breath” on White’s findings and indicated she made her initial inquiry for an audit report two years ago.

“I have been dogged in my pursuit of finding out the truth and what happened here,” LaPlante said. “We have to go back and see what went wrong and where the dam broke so that we can build it and make it stronger going forward. I’m concerned with how hard I had to push just to get this audit in front of us. I’m really not happy that it took us this long to get here.”

District 1 commissioner Sam Tornatore sounded a more sympathetic tone toward White on his findings, noting documented dysfunction within some facets of county governance.

“I feel bad for you, because I feel that you were given an untenable task,” Tornatore said.

‘Make sure this doesn’t happen again’

Throughout the discussion, several commissioners suggested multiple steps to ensure critical communications do reach state officials in Springfield. Sending documents such as the cannabis tax resolution by certified mail was one such proposal raised at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’ve developed a number of policies and procedures, and they’re continuing to develop under the current chair to make sure this doesn’t happen again, at least with the financial side,” Chief Administrative Officer Nick Kottmeyer said.

Current CFO Jeff Martynowicz went on record in saying his office will take responsibility for taking the steps necessary to file ordinances with state officials, going forward.

“I think the big takeaway, as far as finance, is that we have these controls in place,” Martynowicz said.

County Board chairwoman Deborah Conroy likened the incident to a teachable moment and said it was an issue to be taken seriously.

“We very seldom ever have a new revenue source,” Conroy said. “I think it’s a very valid thing to say that we should all have been saying, ‘Where’s this money?’ As the chair, I will say that there’s some accountability in the chair’s department as well.”

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