News Column

Colton city leaders, public want forensic audit to clean up books

August 20, 2014

By Leslie Parrilla, San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.



Aug. 20--A mistake lasting more than 10 years and costing $642,000 has triggered public outrage and prompted city leaders to ask for a forensic audit of Colton's finances.

In addition, the city is attempting to determine how much money it actually collected over those years and whether that money went into the right accounts.

"I find it appalling that we've had finance director after finance director, after finance manager, that no one brought this to the council," said Councilwoman Susan Oliva at a council meeting Tuesday night. "I'm just so concerned and in awe of how after all these finance directors and managers that we've had, that nobody has done anything about this."

Oliva was referring to what staff called "messy accounting for 10 years." The city failed to reconcile its accounts receivables with its actual deposits since 2003, something a 2013 audit brought to light and the city's been trying to correct since 2010.

Colton City Manager Stephen Compton said he had been investigating a list of finance issues, including this one, when he was placed on paid administrative leave in June, pending a personnel investigation that discovered he approved more in contracts than he was authorized to.

Acting City Manager David Kolk laid out the accounting failure, saying that most of the money had been collected, it was simply not marked off on invoices, which led the city to believe it had more money than it did in three accounts. It inflated the water/wastewater fund by $448,022.60, the general fund by $163,752.46 and in the electric fund by $30,225.

That means when city leaders approved the 2014-15 budget recently, they thought they had about $160,000 more than they did.

"It should have been done. It wasn't. There's no excuse for it," Kolk said about balancing accounts receivables and writing off uncolletable debts, which experts say should be done at least annually. "This is not something that we are particularly proud of."

Some officials have said communication between the accounts receivable department and other city departments was to blame.

Now staff is looking through old receipts to confirm that payments were actually made, and the majority of the $642,000 will not be a write-off but instead a correction of the fund balance.

However, time is a problem, because some records from years ago no longer exist.

"There's no way that code enforcement or fire can see whether or not somebody paid a weed abatement bill in 2006. That money is forever gone, it may have been paid, it may not have been paid," Kolk said.

In addition to the general fund, water/wastewater and electric, other city accounts are being inspected to correct their numbers.

Further complicating the situation is the departure of finance manager Jessica Hurst, which was announced last night. The city is in the process of hiring a finance director, but if that doesn't happen simultaneously, the department will be without a finance manager and director.

The public and council members called for an in-depth audit, or forensic audit, tracking the flow and process of monies from beginning to end to determine if there are additional problems and the extent of the accounts receivable failure.

"It's not a bad thing. It's actually a detoxifier. It's a cleansing and it creates a brand new slate to make sure everything is being done right in it's proper place in the proper authority," said Councilman Frank Navarro.

It's unclear how much of the accounts receivable money had been collected and if those monies reached the proper accounts, but Kolk said the majority of the bills have been paid, which are for code enforcement, false alarms and discharge permit billings.

"It is very possible that the money did not go into the appropriate account. That tends to be on the electric side," Kolk said.

To help rectify the issue, council members asked for accounts receivables to be brought to them quarterly and for proof that municipal accounting procedures existed and staff is aware of them.

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(c)2014 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.)

Visit the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) at www.sbsun.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: San Bernardino County Sun (CA)


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