The Louisiana State Police haven't provided proof that $2.4 million in state funds set aside for policing in the French Quarter was actually spent there, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor's Office, putting the law-enforcement agency in "noncompliance with state law."
The agency disagrees with that finding, arguing that it stayed within the law when it used the money to cover unreimbursed expenses that had been stacking up for years.
The dispute is the latest instance of financial wrangling to come from the State Police deployment in the French Quarter, which began in 2014 after a mass shooting on Bourbon Street.
In 2015, French Quarter residents approved a special quarter-cent sales tax increase in the district to pay for a permanent State Police presence, but that wasn't enough to cover their costs, police officials said. For fiscal year 2017, the Legislature appropriated $2.4 million to plug the agency’s funding gap.
Accounting for that spending is where the State Police went awry, according to the report this week from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.
Although the State Police are required by law to spend all of that money on French Quarter policing, the agency failed to document that the money went there to pay for fuel, the report said.
“Without proper supporting documentation, we cannot determine that the funds spent on fuel were expended for the intended purposes as established by statute,” the auditors said.
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State Police Lt. Col. Jason Starnes, the agency’s chief administrative officer, disagreed with the auditor in an August letter. He said that the money from the Legislature only became available in the third quarter of the fiscal year, after “hundreds” of expenses had already been incurred in New Orleans.
Instead of going through the cumbersome process of re-entering those expenses using the correct coding, the agency decided to spend the full $2.4 million payout on fuel expenses in its general budget.
“This was a mechanism to replace other state funds that were used to pay LSP's unreimbursed expenses incurred prior to the fund being made available. This freed up previously obligated state funds which could then be used in LSP's operating budget,” Starnes said.
Starnes said the amount the State Police spent on fuel is dwarfed by what they have dedicated toward policing the French Quarter. In the 2017 fiscal year alone, he said, the agency was short $1,670,000 that was not reimbursed by the city — including $935,000 in payroll costs.
The special French Quarter troop had previously sucked up $2.1 million in payroll costs from June 2014 to January 2015 and another $237,000 in December 2015, he said.
A City Hall spokeswoman said that while funds for the French Quarter troop lagged in previous years — causing the State Police to write off some invoices — the city is current on troopers' salaries and benefits for 2018.
The city has no concerns about State Police spending, said LaTonya Norton, the press secretary for Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
“NOPD and the LSP have a great partnership and LSP is meeting the obligations … to provide additional law enforcement personnel to increase visibility in the French Quarter,” she said.
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