The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office is investigating the Town of Independence after an accounting firm found numerous instances of missing money, possible violations of state law and other accounting irregularities.
Auditors with Faulk & Winkler, LLC, found several causes for concern which span seven pages in their report released last week. Their audit lists a range of findings, though many focus on the town’s utilities.
On three occasions last October and November, receipts of up to $2,674 were entered into the town’s utility billing system as collections from customers, but there are no matching bank deposits. Auditors say the town should introduce procedures to ensure deposits are made daily and accurately.
“Secondly, the Town should request the District Attorney or Sheriff’s Office to conduct a formal investigation. ... The Town should consider the missing deposits a theft of funds unless proven otherwise,” the audit states.
Additionally, each of the town’s utility funds had a deficit at the end of 2014. Water funds were $55,883 in the red, and sewer $20,988 short, according to the audit.
“The user fees are not adequate for the expenses of operating the systems,” auditors wrote, saying the town should consider reducing spending or increasing utility rates.
Part of the problem is the city charges a flat rate for those utilities rather than a usage rate. The town also is not in compliance with its own ordinance because it bills customers differently based on whether they live within the town limits, but the boundaries “are difficult to interpret and some customers’ parcels are dissected by the municipal city limit boundaries,” auditors wrote.
There is some good news, though. According to the audit, Independence is installing new water meters which will allow the town to charge a usage rate. The town also has upped the price and dedicated a sales tax to fund the sewer, in an effort to get back in the black.
The town also spent $116,016 more than was in their 2014 general fund budget — 9.5 percent over their projected expenditures. The mayor is required to notify the board of aldermen when the town spends more than five percent of their projections, and now the town is not in compliance with state law, the audit states. Nevertheless, the town ended last year with $168,000 left in the general fund, down slightly from $181,000 the year before.
The audit lists other concerns, including a possible violation of public bidding law. According to the audit, the town “could not provide sufficient evidence” that they sought multiple quotes when they purchased a $22,500 used dump truck.