Audit: Town of Washington Facing Financial Issues
A new audit report express doubt about the Town of Washington's ability to operate.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office released that report this morning. Some of the issues it discusses are new. Others have existed for several years.
According to that audit, compiled by Kolder, Slaven, & Company, Washington had past due balances of around $396,000 at the end of the last fiscal year. The audit notes that this amount is actually lower than last year's past due balance total.
"This amount has been reduced by approximately $380,000 since the prior year," the audit states.
The audit also notes that Washington’s general fund and museum fund have deficits totaling in the six figures. $110,000 of that deficit comes from the general fund.
" . . . [T]he Town has $125,924 of deficit fund balances in the governmental funds which has been reduced by $572,010 since the prior fiscal year," the audit states. "The Town is continuing the process of assessing operations in order to identify additional revenue sources and to reduce expenditures."
The audit also noted continuing problems in other town functions. The most major of these findings deals with the town's utility department.
According to the audit, town officials are not following its disconnection policy for people who don't pay their utility bills. This issue was first noted by auditors in 2019. This year's report says 86 percent of outstanding utility balances are overdue. The audit says town officials have not properly reported water consumption, water productions, and line flushing. It also notes that errors in the billing system, including incorrect addresses, addresses not put in the system, and houses and buildings not marked with street numbers, led to problems with properly billing customers.
"The Town's policy states that 'after the due date a late charge will be assessed and there will be a 3-day grace period before services are disconnected,'" the audit states. "Failure to collect user fees in a timely manner results in a loss of revenue and jeopardizes continuity of operations. When utility balances are allowed to remain outstanding it may be difficult for the customer to return to nondelinquent status."
The auditing firm made two recommendations to Mayor Dwight Landreneau and the town's board of aldermen to correct the issues in the utility department.
"Significant water losses occurred in the Water Utility Department," the recommendation letter says. "The Town should investigate possible reasons for the significant water loss and continue efforts to repair leaking water lines and faulty meters with zero consumption readings. Also, the Town should make efforts to ensure that all addresses receiving water services are recorded in the Town's billing system and denoted as active.
"The Sewer Enterprise Fund experienced an operating loss of $41,182 during the current year. The Town should evaluate operations to determine methods to increase revenues and/or reduce expenses in order to operate at a surplus."
The report also found problems with the way the Washington Police Department handles traffic tickets.
"There were no written policies and procedures for maintaining, issuing, and accounting for
traffic tickets," the auditor wrote. "The traffic ticket log was not properly maintained: (1) There was no accounting for the numerical sequence of tickets issued and (2) ticket books were issued to police officers before
the previously issued book is accounted for and before all issued citations are received from the police officer.
"There is no accounting of the final disposition of citations issued," the audit continued. "No quarterly audit of traffic citations is being performed by the Municipal Clerk."
This improper accounting of tickets, the auditor notes, could be costing the town revenue.
A second issue surrounding traffic tickets--one that has plagued the Town of Washington since 2010--appeared in the audit. Town officials once again failed to remit fees associated with traffic fines to the proper agencies.
"State statutes require various fees to be collected in fine revenues, then subsequently
remitted to the appropriate organization," the audit states. "The organizations and related revised statutes are as
follows: Acadiana Criminalistics Laboratory, St. Landry Crime Stoppers, Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, (and) State of Louisiana Supreme Court - CMIS.
"The Town used the funds for operating expenses, rather than remit them to the appropriate organizations."
The audit found two others areas where town officials violated state law. According to the audit, the town government failed to publish the minutes of its board of aldermen meetings in its official journal. The audit also says the town's proposed expenditures exceeded the total estimated funds available.
The full audit is below.