The state Legislative Auditor’s Office is working out details of enhanced audits that will be required of St. Tammany Parish government bodies beginning this year, Joy Irwin, director of local government services for the auditor, told local officials at a meeting Wednesday.
When her staff first began working on the task, required under a 2014 state law, it wasn’t clear what “enhanced’’ meant, she said.
They began by gathering all the audits from St. Tammany and relevant newspaper articles about the parish and then talked to many people, she said. The resulting information is going into a risk model that will determine what procedures will be required of each government entity.
Her staff is working to finalize the process in a month, she said, noting that the fiscal year ends June 30. “We don’t know all the answers yet,’’ Irwin said.
Among the questions that still need to be answered is what to charge local agencies for the Legislative Auditor’s Office’s costs in developing the audits. The legislation adopted last year requires local entities to pick up that cost.
That yet-to-be-determined bill, plus the cost of the audits themselves, generated some uneasiness on the part of St. Tammany agency heads who gathered at the Towers Building in Slidell to hear Irwin’s presentation.
“I wish we got paid for everything that was put on us,’’ Parish Clerk of Court Malise Prieto said. Her agency is funded by fees for services, she said, asking Irwin to be mindful of the cost.
“That’s what keeps me up at night,” Irwin replied.
The requirement for enhanced audits stems from the work of a task force that examined the idea of creating an inspector general’s office for St. Tammany Parish. The 24-member task force, which had representatives from every government body in the parish, met for six months last year. In the end, it decided not to seek an IG but instead to pursue heightened audits.
Prieto, who served on the task force, told Irwin that she thought the option was intended to keep things simple. “Never in our mind were we putting a big burden on you,’’ she said. For example, she said, the task force thought the auditor might look at credit card usage or travel expenses.
She asked whether St. Tammany officials should contact legislators to change the law before it is implemented.
Chris Kaufman, chief of St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 1, also questioned the direction that the law is taking, saying that it seems to be adding layers.
But Parish President Pat Brister pointed out there was pressure from the public to have greater oversight of parish government and that implementing enhanced audits was a far less costly approach than creating an inspector general’s office.
Irwin agreed, saying an IG’s office would cost about $500,000 a year.
Mandeville Councilman Rick Danielson, who chaired the task force, said the process of developing the enhanced audits is still in the developmental stages and that local officials will continue to meet with Irwin and her staff.
He said the enhanced audits could eventually save money by reducing waste and fraud.
Irwin said she hopes that St. Tammany’s new process will be a model that eventually will be used statewide.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.