Harahan spent more than 8 percent over its budget and bought police cars without seeking bids last year — issues that potentially violate state laws, according to an audit of the city’s finances.
Harahan Mayor Vinny Mosca disputed those findings Monday even as Councilwoman Cindy Murray, one of his most vocal critics, said they were a sign the city’s finances are out of control.
The audit by the private firm Postlethwaite and Netterville was released by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office on Monday.
It said the city spent about $5.87 million in 2013 even though its budget called for only about $5.4 million in expenditures. That’s a roughly 8.6 percent difference.
State law requires municipalities to amend their budget when actual revenues or expenditures differ from the plan by more than 5 percent.
The extra money was spent to pay for three sinkholes caused by sewer issues and because the city had not yet received repayment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for some costs, Mosca said.
He said it was impossible to budget for the sinkholes in advance. He also noted that the law requires the City Council to amend the budget and said a revised budget, including the additional expenditures, was approved in mid-December.
The audit report also said the purchase of two police cars was not preceded by a bid process. Under state law, the city is required to get at least three bids before making purchases of that size, according to the audit.
The city purchased three police cars last year, Mosca said. Two were funded with money from Jefferson Parish government and purchased through a standing contract the parish has.
The third was purchased with federal asset forfeiture money received after Harahan police assisted federal law enforcement in a drug case. In such situations, the city is allowed to keep a portion of the money seized. Because that car was purchased with federal money, Mosca said, former Police Chief Mac Dickinson didn’t think it had to follow state bid laws.
Murray, who has fought with Mosca on financial issues in the past, blasted the mayor for failing to inform the council of either the budget situation or the purchase of the vehicles.
“I’m so flabbergasted by this,” she said.
Mosca noted that the council approves checks for payments every month, but Murray said those checks do not give the city’s full financial picture. The council also was not informed of the purchase of the police vehicles, she said.
“I’m concerned for the fact that we’re out of budget and we’re going the opposite way; we’re going further and further out of budget,” Murray said.
“When you have no money, you can’t keep spending.”
Mosca is not running for re-election as mayor but is seeking a council seat in the Nov. 4 election.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.