City responds to alleged theft: New measures after audit finds public funds missing

Published 6:33 am Friday, June 17, 2016

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette said this week the city is working to streamline its computer programs that handle tax and utility billing, in order to reduce the risk of misplacing or mis-calculating funds.

In addition, Perrette said the city has changed its financial oversight methods.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office released a report this week that alleges a former city employee stole $5,006 from tax and utility payments.

A state police spokesperson said so far no arrests have been made, but the investigation is ongoing.

However, the report also notes that an additional $606 is missing from utility payments without an obvious explanation.

The report puts some blame on computer error and some blame on the city’s method of accounting. According to the report, $306.04 went missing on Sept. 16.

“According to city employees, (that shortage) was due to all clerks being off by small amounts and was considered to likely be a computer error,” the audit report states.

On Dec. 1, $300 went missing.

The report indicates any number of things could have happened.

Until recently, the city’s policy had been to collect payments, and then the clerks would count the payments and reconcile them against payment records for each day.

Then the payments would be put into cash collection bags and stored overnight and reconciled for a second time by a supervisor the next day.

This process yielded the missing $300 on Dec. 1.

“The next shortage … was not identified until all of the funds from each of the sealed bags were commingled during the second reconciliation process,” the report said. “Because the funds were commingled and not counted separately, the source … of the shortage could not be determined.”

City employees originally noted the missing $606 during the reconciliation process and no other money was found missing.

However, the state auditors wrote they could not find any other missing money from the utility payments because the city’s internal controls were too weak to do a sufficient audit.

“These deficiencies prevented auditors from determining with any degree of accuracy if all utility payments collected were recorded in the utility system and deposited in the city’s bank account,” the report said. “As such, we are only reporting on the shortages noted by city employees.”

However, Perrette said the state auditors looked through all the city’s tax and utility billing records from January 2015 onward, and they found nothing other than what the city initially reported.

“I am pretty confident there aren’t additional monies missing,” Perrette said.

The mayor added she is happy to work with state auditors, as they provide transparency to the city’s financial system.

The auditor’s report listed three areas for improvement.

First, the report suggested that the city mandate a monthly reconciliation of customer accounts receivable balances.

Second, the city should require management approval in order to void or cancel payments.

Finally, the city should prohibit employees or contractors from deleting data from the computer system.

Perrette said the city is now following all three recommendations.

Specifically, Perrette said employees will be written up if they void or cancel payments without explicit permission and no one may delete a day from the computer system. Perrette explained that that only happened once, and it was an independent contractor who did it as part of a repair.

“An independent contractor deleted something from the computer system to fix something with someone’s bill,” she said. “This was not related to the theft.”

In addition, Perrette said the city is now requiring a supervisor to reconcile daily deposit totals for each clerk at the end of the day, thereby eliminating any chance of co-mingling.

Perrette explained the city is working toward having monthly reconciliations of all customer accounts receivable balances, but the city must purchase new software first.

Perrette said at present the city uses different software to tally tax and utility payments, and is looking at buying one piece of software that can keep track of both payments for better controls.

The mayor said the city is currently waiting on cost estimates for the new software, and there is no timetable in place for the software updates.