Town develops fuel card policies after audit

Officials from Independence are developing procedures to track town fuel card purchases after four employees used the cards to pay for about $1,000 in gas for their personal vehicles, according to an audit.

The audit, released Monday by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office, says the town does not have sufficient policies in place to monitor fuel purchases. However, it says the town is developing such policies to prevent fuel card abuse from occurring in the future.

A letter from Mayor Michael Ragusa, written to the Legislative Auditor’s Office in response to the audit, also says Independence has suspended use of its fuel cards until the policies have been developed.

Ragusa said Monday that the town is seeking restitution from the four employees.

Independence Police Chief Frank Edwards III has said his department began investigating the alleged fuel theft in January.

The four employees’ fuel cards were revoked by the Town Council in January, and they surrendered the cards in April.

The case has been sent to the District Attorney’s Office.

The audit says the town does not have any policies for credit card purchases as well as for travel reports and expenses.

The audit also cites an August 2011 statement for a town credit card that listed a $58.50 purchase for alcohol and a purchase at a casino resort in Bossier City for $276.30.

Like the fuel purchases, the audit and Ragusa’s letter indicate the town is developing policies and procedures to monitor all credit and fuel card purchases.

Ragusa said Monday the town only has one credit card, and that it is primarily used for purchases related to Louisiana Municipal Association conventions held each year.

Ragusa said he didn’t know anything about the alcohol purchase. He speculated that the casino resort purchase was related to a convention trip.

Ragusa said he has not looked at the audit.

The audit also says Independence violated public bid law when it did not solicit three bids for renovation of one of the town’s building.

Louisiana’s Public Bid Law dictates that local governments should solicit at least three bids for any public works project that exceeds $25,000, but the town only solicited one bid for the project, the audit says.

Ragusa said that point was inaccurate. He said a clerk made a mistake and did not file all the bids on time. The clerk has since been fired.

Independence operated in 2012 with a $348,470 deficit in its general fund and has operated at a deficit for the past three years, the audit says.

The town also owes about $36,000 for utility services.

The town charges residents a flat rate for monthly water, sewer and solid waste collection services. The audit suggests Independence should start charging residents at a rate based on consumption and install a master meter to track water and sewer usage.

Faulk and Winkler LLC, of Baton Rouge, performed the audit.