A multimillion-dollar deficit in Livingston Parish’s jail sales tax fund was among a handful of concerns independent accountants cited in the parish’s 2014 audit.
The report from LaPorte, of Covington, presented to the Parish Council on Thursday, said the parish also continued to struggle with keeping its priority road list updated, tracking permit revenue and estimating expenditures in its road special revenue fund.
The audit’s three formal findings repeated half those listed for 2013 and only one-tenth the number of problems cited two years ago — an improvement that Parish President Layton Ricks said he was pleased to see.
Parish Council Chairman Chance Parent said the council’s Finance Committee would review the report in more detail at its next meeting.
The jail fund deficit rose to $7.4 million in 2014 due to the inadequacy of the parish’s dedicated quarter-cent sales tax to cover both the expenses of operating the jail and the debt for its construction. While the tax generated $3.8 million last year, the parish spent nearly $2.5 million on operational costs and another $1.8 million for debt service on the 2008 facility, according to the audit report.
The parish’s general fund has borne the brunt of the deficit, loaning the jail fund more than $3.4 million by the end of last year, the audit states. The health unit fund also transferred $300,000 to the jail fund.
Auditors said those sums would be repaid “once resources are available” but suggested that was unlikely to happen until at least 2021, when the jail debt is paid off.
The audit noted three other parish funds also recorded deficits at the end of 2014, in violation of the Louisiana Local Government Budget Act: the Office of Emergency Preparedness Fund, which was under by $100,549; the Public, Educational and Governmental Access Fund, $16 under; and the Courthouse Capital Project Fund, $67,220 under.
All three of those deficits were expected to be eliminated in 2015 with transfers from the general fund, according to the report.
Parish Finance Director Jennifer Meyers said the 7 percent variance in road special revenue fund expenditures last year, which also triggered notice of a Local Government Budget Act violation, was likely caused by a late-year purchase or project change that occurred after the council had adopted its final amended budget for the year.
“There is an art to budgeting those projects,” Meyers told the Parish Council on Thursday. “Please take comfort in the fact that a few years ago, we were in violation for 68 line items and this year, just one line.”
An inability to keep up with changes also triggered a finding regarding the Parish Council’s priority road list. Auditors said they found discrepancies when they compared the parish’s three-year priority list to council actions recorded in meeting minutes.
The inaccuracies made the list run afoul of the state Parish Transportation Fund Act and “could lead to work being performed on roads which does not comply with the prioritized ranking,” LaPorte states in the audit. “In addition, there is the potential for work to be performed on roads which have been removed from the listing per the Council’s approved amendments.”
The auditors recommended the council update its project list each time changes are made and that the list include both the date each road is added and the resolution numbers authorizing each change.
A third finding, related to the parish’s accounting of permit revenues, said the records included gaps in the sequence of permit and license numbers, indicating possible errors.
John Murray, LaPorte’s director of audit and assurance services, told the Parish Council that a software upgrade could eliminate the finding.
Meyers has said financing the new software would require an increase in permit fees — something only the Parish Council can approve.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.