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A worker with the EBR Mosquito Abatement & Rodent Control division sprays insecticide for mosquitos during a night spraying on Ford Street near Plank Road, Tuesday evening, July 11, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

The city-parish's Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control office did not have adequate control over its inventory and didn't follow policy in contracting some work on its new headquarters, internal auditors say in a new report.

In their review of the city-parish's financial practices for fiscal year 2018, auditors also dinged city-parish government for its underfunded retirement plan and its handling of federal grant dollars administered through the parish's Office of Community Development. 

The audit findings regarding the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control office come three months after the Metro Council forced the agency's director to resign following months of criticism and questions about his skills and administrative ability to lead the department. 

Auditors from Postlethwaite & Netterville called out the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control Board for recommending that the Metro Council approve a nearly $500,000 contract for program management services in 2015 for services related to the construction of the department's new facility in North Baton Rouge.

Auditors called attention to approximately $270,000 in costs incurred under the contract in 2018. The Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control Board sidestepped a city-parish ordinance that requires all contracts greater than $50,000 for engineering, construction management, geotechnical and related services to be reviewed and signed-off on by the parish's Engineer and Surveyor Selection Board before being presented to the Metro Council.

"That was a pretty major goof," said Randy Vaeth, assistant director of the city-parish's office of Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control. 

Vaeth, who is considered likely to become the department's interim director in the wake of Todd Walker's ousting back in April, wasn't involved in the oversight of the facility's construction. But he acknowledged the board didn't properly consult with the Parish Attorney's Office as it probably should before presenting the contract to the Metro Council four years ago. 

"That's probably not going to happen for a while since we're not going to undertake any projects necessitating a program manager fee of $50,000 or more," he said. "But the issue was on us. You can't really fault the Metro Council given how many contracts they handle. They assume the department is doing the right thing."

Auditors also chided the agency for not having a better tracking system for inventory, making materials and supplies more susceptible to theft and misuse. 

Vaeth said the department is already looking at special computer software that will likely address that issue. 

"The auditor was very thorough (and) pointed out things we kind of weren't aware of," he said.

Auditors also faulted the city-parish's Office of Community Development for not complying with environmental review requirements related to some of its Community Development Block Grant funding. Further, auditors said, the community development office did not show evidence of on-site inspections for rental units under its Home Investment Partnerships Program and was unable to prove that CDBG funding benefited at least 70 percent of the parish's low- to moderate-income residents. 

Rowdy Gaudet, assistant chief administrative officer for the city-parish, said the mandated inspections are "taking place" and are in the process of getting properly reported in the city-parish's systems. 

He said an internal reporting issue led to the misunderstanding over the 70 percent threshold requirement for CDBG funding. 

"That was most concerning because we're confident we did," Gaudet said. "The problem is how we're reporting it. It's not capturing the data properly and we weren't able to fix it in time before the audit report (was) published."

"But we're working on that to make sure we don't see it as a repeat finding next year," he added. 

Auditors stressed the city-parish needs to develop a long-range plan to address its "significantly underfunded" employee retirement plan.

The audit says the city-parish might need to pull additional funds from the General Fund and/or make benefit changes to close the nearly $30 million gap in the parish's Retirement System and Police Guarantee Trust, an issue that has been brought up in annual audits for the past several years. 

"We recognize the issue and are working hard to do what needs to be done to get that corrected," said Linda Hunt, the city-parish's interim finance director.

In their response, city-parish officials said more than $1 million in additional contributions were made in the 2019 fiscal year budget to address the issue, as well an increase in employer contributions the previous year. 

The parish' Retirement Board is exploring "all possibilities" including a commitment to increase employer contributions at a minimum of $200,000 annually.   

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com