New audit raps Sorrento’s fiscal shortcomings

The town has demonstrated a continued inability to collect traffic fines and court costs, a recent audit shows.

The issue was one of several significant deficiencies outlined by an audit of the town’s 2011-12 financial records.

The audit, performed by the Postlethwaite & Netterville accounting firm, said the town issued approximately $455,000 in fines and court costs during the fiscal year, but collected only about $342,000 of that amount. The audit further said the town was unable to “effectively monitor” and lacked “adequate oversight” of the collection efforts.

“The Mayor and the Town Council should review monthly detailed traffic ticket activity logs, to include a list of tickets issued, ticket revenue collections, any other adjustment to tickets issued, and unpaid ticket balances,” the audit says.

“The Town should involve the Town attorney to assist in collection efforts. These practices may result in a higher probability of collections and increase Town resources.”

Town Attorney Donovan Hudson said Wednesday there are “numerous ways” to move forward for collecting the outstanding traffic fines, but right now he’s not sure if the town’s council is going to take any action on the matter.

“Nobody has had a conversation with me about it other than knowing that there are apparently some substantial outstanding bills,” Hudson said.

“I could take normal collections proceedings, (but) no one has consulted me at all other than to tell me there’s a problem out there.”

Other significant deficiencies outlined in the audit were nearly $10,000 in delinquent utility accounts and inadequate financial oversight.

It’s not the first time the town has been cited in an audit for its failure to adequately track and account for traffic ticket receipts. It faced similar criticisms in audits done in 2008 and 2009 under former Mayor Brenda Melancon.

The town’s 2008-09 audit, performed by Faulk & Winkler, ordered town officials to get “an overall accounting” of the process. Suggestions included a better method of tracking all ticket books and receipts, presenting reports to the council of the number of tickets issued per month, finding a better way to internally handle payment receipts and upgrading the department’s computer software for accounting purposes.

Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot, who will be out of the office until next week, was unavailable to comment on the report. Theriot previously had said that many tickets are issued to out-of-town drivers, making fines difficult to collect.

Mayor-elect Mike Lambert said he was not prepared to comment on the audit report because he had just begun his transition period leading up to July 1, when he takes office.

“I’m just in the early phases of looking at the financials,” Lambert said.