SHALIMAR – The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is investigating “potential billing irregularities” within the county Water and Sewer Department, county officials said.

At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, county administrator John Hofstad told commissioners that he and Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel met with the Sheriff’s Office last week to request assistance.

“As (the investigation) matures, we’ll bring back more information to the board,” Hofstad said.

During a break in the meeting, county spokesman Rob Brown spoke to a reporter briefly.

“We had a billing department employee waiving certain fees we were trying to collect," Brown said. “It’s an ongoing investigation. It takes time to go through a number of records. We’re going through some of them one by one. Many of the records are paper files.”

County Clerk of Court/Comptroller J.D. Peacock is helping the Sheriff’s Office investigate the matter, Brown added, before Hofstad walked over and said further details could not be released outside of those in a county press release.

According to the press release, county staff recently informed Hofstad’s office “that an employee, following the established internal controls, detected various errors and discrepancies with certain billing transactions. Immediate steps were taken to review data and office records of these transactions, which resulted in a broadening of the investigation to include local law enforcement. Hofstad emphasized that none of these transactions involved discrepancies in the monthly billing of user charges to the customers of the county Water and Sewer Department.”

According to the release, “Sheriff Larry Ashley met with county staff last week to outline the focus of his department’s efforts but declined to release details relevant to the investigation."

“This is an ongoing investigation and we must protect the integrity of our process as the investigation continues to mature,” Ashley said in the release.

Also according to the release, Ketchel requested that additional investigative assistance be provided through the Office of the Inspector General of the Clerk of Circuit Court.

“The combination of our conscientious staff along with the internal controls we have in place worked as designed, which I trust will aid law enforcement in the swift resolution of this case,” Ketchel said in the release.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Nathan Boyles said he is pleased that the billing issue was caught.

“It’s been identified and we’re now working to resolve it,” he said. “I think that this will be a good opportunity for us to do an autopsy of the process that occurs once one of these irregularities is identified.”

Boyles recommended that county officials evaluate current county policies and have Hofstad bring back any recommendations on additional policies that need to be adopted or training that needs to be in place as future safeguards.

“The board should probably be cautioned to keep all the information we’ve been briefed on in-house, given the fact that there’s an ongoing investigation,” Commissioner Kelly Windes said.