Commission on Aging employees overpaid thousands

An investigation is underway after more than a dozen Leelanau County employees were overpaid thousands of dollars.

Chet Janik, the county's new administrator says Commission On Aging workers inflated mileage expenses for several years and now he's trying to figure out what to do about it.

The overpayments were discovered last month by a COA employee who was filling in for a coworker and handling payroll sheets. She immediately reported her findings to the county administrator.

Chet Janik, Leelanau County Administrator says "It is very unfortunate because those tax dollars should be going to seniors services."

For at least six years, Commission on Aging Director Rosie Steffens told 14 housekeepers to lie about how far they traveled to and from the homes of elderly in the county. Those employees were reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents per mile.

Janik says, "We found that they were doubling, sometimes tripling their mileage."

Tuesday morning Janik told commissioners that the employees were overpaid an estimated $12,000 to $14,000 total a year. Steffens told Janik it was a way to give the employees extra compensation she believed they deserved.

Melinda Lautner, Leelanau County Commissioner says, "The top of my head blew off when I heard this and I am very disturbed. I'm not looking at this as someone got overpaid, but that we've got thousands of dollars in taxpayer money missing."

Janik placed Steffens on administrative leave earlier this summer, and accepted her retirement this week. He will serve as interim director, hire a consultant, and restructure the department.

Janik says, "All services will continue. Seniors will not see a change in services."

The county is working with a legal team to see if criminal charges can be filed. Janik says the housekeepers won't be held liable because they were told to carry out the practice by their boss.

Steffens worked as the director for almost 26 years.