Officials in Baker have struggled to keep their finances in order and 11 pages of a state audit describe holes in the city’s finances.
Monday, the state released the city’s annual audit for the fiscal year that ended last June. It’s taken until now to go public because city officials turned in their accounting documents late, wrote auditor Melvin Davis.
And what they did turn over was problematic. In his report, the auditor said he couldn’t get enough information about the city cemetery’s finances to offer a complete review.
The city overestimated how much money it would take in and underestimated how much it would spend. Officials don’t keep track of their inventory or maintain complete records of how money is spent, the audit states. Sometimes city funds gets spent on travel and meals for government workers without providing adequate receipts or explanation.
Nevertheless, Baker is in the black, and the mayor and elected police chief — who are both stepping down this year — defended the city.
The finance office has implemented most of the auditor’s recommendations such as keeping better track of checks and employee pay, said Mayor Harold Rideau. However, he is still concerned with the cemetery. Essentially, the city sells items like monuments and plots to residents while they are still alive, but the auditor contends that it shouldn’t record that revenue until they actually deliver on their end.
“It becomes an accounting nightmare,” Rideau said.
The city has set up a storage space to keep tombstones for the living population of Baker, the mayor explained, but he said the city isn’t really set up to be in the cemetery business.
Meanwhile, Police Chief and Marshal Mike Knaps said his department was called out for a policy they’ve had in place for years that previous auditors have never contested. Several times a month, four or five members of his department convene to discuss administrative issues, and if the meeting runs late, the chief makes them work through lunch but pays the tab with marshal’s office funding. The auditor found $8,067 in such expenditures in fiscal year 2015.
Knaps took issue with the auditor’s report, describing it like playing a baseball game then finding out once it’s over that several runs didn’t count because the rules changed afterward. His office also spent $1,670 on undocumented travel, which the chief said was due to a young officer attending out-of-town narcotics training and failing to keep his receipts.
The city has had three auditors in the last four years, and they all do things differently, Rideau said. Davis, the recent auditor, was “very thorough,” the mayor remarked.
Several of Davis’s findings remarked on procedural missteps and untrained staff, like supervisors not signing off on purchases or the city not giving a financial account the correct official designation.
Rideau said the city has had trouble keeping a stable team in the financial office. Most of the staff has turned over in the past year and a half.
Baker doesn’t have the resources to pay enough to compete with private businesses, the mayor said.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.