(News Star – Monroe) The Town of Jonesboro continues to have trouble keeping its financial house in order, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. The audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, which was released this week, had 11 findings, all of which were repeated from the previous year.
The auditor reported excessive overtime paid to town employees, failure in internal controls — including over purchasing, utility billings and timekeeping — and several officials and key employees paying their utility bills late, sometimes incurring penalties.
The auditor also found that the town failed to comply with the Public Bid Law and Budget Law, failed to publish all minutes in the town’s official journal and issued financial statements late. In addition, bank account balances were not fully collated and there was a lack of segregation of incompatible duties over collections.
Typically, an employee’s annual hours would be 2,080 calculated as 40 hours per week times 52 weeks. According to the report, some employees were paid for more than 2,500 hours for the year.
“During fiscal year 2020, 51 of approximately 83 employees employed during the year received overtime and/or double time,” the audit read. “We noted four of the Town’s employees surpassed 2,550 hours worked during the year. The total overtime/double time worked increased from the prior year with the majority of the increase being due to public works employees. Personnel expenses in the Utility Fund increased from $353,108 to $518,563, or 40% from 2019.”
The town said this issue has been resolved.
“Overtime is now being compensated in compensatory time as opposed to cash,” the response read. “All overtime is to be approved by the department supervisor before it is worked. Reduction of overtime expenses is an ongoing task for the town. In the past year, overtime has been greatly reduced.”
Another recurring issue noted by the audit was a lack of controls on money spent by the town. The audit noted several disbursements were made without purchase orders, which was first reported in 2016.
“The Town did not comply with its own policies,” The audit read. “Unauthorized purchases could be made. The Town could pay for goods or services that it did not receive.”
In its response, the town said that its policy requires a purchase order before incurring expenses, signed by the mayor or designee, and filed with the invoice which is signed by a responsible employee. But it also acknowledged that some employees manage to circumvent the policy and acquire goods outside of the policy.
“To correct this condition, we are sending reminders out to all department heads and notifying vendors that no purchases should take place without a purchase order,” the response read.
Another ongoing issue has concerned billing residents for utilities. The auditor noted that beginning with the fiscal year 2017, auditors found that meters are not read, customers are billed the same amount month after month, and bills are mailed too late for timely payments.
“It appeared that readings are only documented for cutoffs and similar situations, not for regular readings,” the audit read. “There are approximately 2,000 customers on the system. It seems that it would be physically impossible for one person to read the meters in time to submit the readings to the Clerk to be entered for billing.”
“Our inspection of account histories and the results of other procedures are consistent with these allegations,” the audit continued. “We did not identify any significant improvements for the fiscal year 2019 or 2020 audits.”
The auditor noted that not billing for actual usage “could result in under or overbilling customers and over or understating the Town’s revenue. The billing process may be taking longer than necessary which may be costing the town in payroll expenses.”
The town responded that plans are in place to rectify the situation.
“The town has applied for grant funding which, if successful, will make it possible to get meters and begin the process of reading meters monthly,” the response read. “As funding is available, meters are currently being added to commercial accounts.”
The audit also noted the town spent tens of thousands of dollars without following the Public Bid Law, which requires open bids for any purchases greater than $30,000.
First reported in 2015, when the auditor reported one out of 25 such purchases complied with the law, the audit “noted no proof of advertisement and no indication there were bids for 2019-2020.”
The town disputed this finding, responding that “the (town) council authorized to advertise for bids. The only bid was from Lott Oil. At the July 14, 2020, meeting, council voted to accept Lott Oil’s bid for fuel.”
“The Auditor does not agree with management,” the audit read.
To view the auditor’s full report click here.
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