The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury was cited in an audit released Monday for failing to make proper budget amendments in several of its funds and for incurring a deficit of more than $900,000 in the fund it uses to help operate the parish prison.
The audit report, which dissected the parish’s 2014 spending, also highlighted at least two instances of improper oversight of employees who may have violated state law: In one case a utility worker used a parish-issued fuel card to make $23 worth of personal purchases and an undetermined amount of gasoline; and the report also dinged Recreation Department employees for illegally taking parish equipment home for personal use.
“I would love to have a perfect audit but with so many people dealing with so many facets of the Police Jury’s business, these things happen,” Jury President Melanie Bueche said.
The Detention Center Fund deficit has been a recurring issue for the Police Jury — mainly, Bueche said, because the parish needs a voter-approved tax for the operation of the parish prison.
But Bueche pointed out the $906,722 shortfall is more of a bookkeeping issue than an ongoing debt for the parish.
“All the bills are paid,” she said. “Some people have a misunderstanding, thinking the Police Jury owes that money.”
According to the audit, the jury used a portion of the revenue generated from a 1-cent sales tax in its general fund to balance its prison fund.
“We have to do something to remedy it, (but) to ask the people to pay for a tax to imprison people is just not something people will run to the polls and vote for,” Bueche said. “Running the prison is a very overwhelming cost to the parish. It’s something every parish is dealing with.”
The audit notes that the parish in 2014 exceeded its general fund budget by 11.4 percent, its drainage fund by 29.6 percent, and its road and bridge fund by 6.5 percent. By state law, governing bodies need to amend budgets that exceed 5 percent of projections.
Auditors also said the parish needs to update its internal control procedures after an employee in the utility department made $23 worth of unauthorized purchases with a parish-issued fuel card.
The matter was brought to light when the Police Jury in July 2014 launched an investigation into accusations a meter reader gave his personal identification number and fuel card to two coworkers who used it to buy gasoline for their personal vehicles. The investigation was closed by the Sheriff’s Office four months later after investigators were unable to find evidence supporting the accusations.
The audit notes that the employee it zeroed in on is still employed by the parish but no longer has access to a fuel card.
Since then, the Police Jury has canceled all its old fuel cards and reassigned new ones with individual, private PIN codes for each employee to better track card use.
Auditors also advised the parish to update its policies and procedures after discovering employees in the Recreation Department were illegally checking out parish equipment to take home for personal use.
The state’s constitution prohibits governmental entities from loaning out property paid for by taxpayers for personal use.
Bueche said she believes the recreation employees got into the habit of borrowing parish equipment after the Police Jury OK’d it during Hurricane Katrina.
“The Police Jury never condoned it; we just didn’t have a rule in place,” Bueche said. “We’re in a rural situation and I think people were just a little more laid-back about it.”
The audit says the Police Jury has now adopted a resolution restricting the practice.
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