Port Allen administation’s  ‘weakness’ in accounting cited

A new audit of Port Allen’s financial records for fiscal year 2011 criticized the administration for “weakness” in accounting practices and found residents are due refunds for gas bill overcharges due to miscalculated rates.

The audit of spending and revenue collections through June 30, 2012, cites the administration for not turning over its financial statements to auditors in a timely manner, causing the report to arrive late at the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

A copy of the audit prepared by the Baton Rouge accounting firm of Provost, Salter, Harper and Alford was presented to city leaders during the Jan. 9 City Council meeting.

In an emailed response to the report Thursday, newly seated Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter said she’s establishing additional internal accounting controls to help reduce the number of potential audit findings in the future.

Slaughter wrote she also wants to increase the use of technology and automation to manage the city’s financial transactions and records.

Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain said Thursday the city’s handling of fiscal matters already is “1,000 percent better” than in past years and called most of the issues cited in the audit report, “lots of minuscule problems.”

McCain added, “I told the mayor this morning I could die today and whoever takes my seat behind me is in a better position than I was when I walked in here. I’m serious about that.”

McCain said the weakness issue raised by the audit happened before she took office Oct. 1, 2011.

While the audit praised the city for maintaining healthy fund balances, it also criticized the city for lacking adequate procedures to make sure assets and liabilities were being properly reconciled with financial records.

Because the city’s cash accounts were not properly reconciled with its general ledger throughout the fiscal year, certain accounting errors went undetected, resulting in misleading journal entries.

Other general ledger inaccuracies cited were unrecorded investment transactions, unscheduled receivables for utility bills and insurance expense accounts and undocumented financial narratives for construction projects and grant income expenses and revenues.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ralph Bergeron hired McCain in October 2011.

Bergeron briefly served as appointive city chief executive after Mayor Derek Lewis resigned in June 2011 as a result of his conviction in a bribery-racketeering scandal.

Auditors recommended that the administration provide monthly financial statements to the City Council and department heads so that bookkeeping errors won’t go undetected for so long.

McCain said she presents council members with quarterly financial reports at the request of the council. “The auditor thinks it should be every month, so I’ll do it every month,” McCain said.

The city miscalculated municipal natural gas bills from August 2011 to April 2012, according to the audit report.

The gas rates customers are charged should be adjusted monthly, based on the price of natural gas the city purchases from its supplier, the report says.

However, the audit report did not estimate how much residents may have been overcharged for gas service.

“Management should determine the effect of the amounts overcharged to its customers and make refunds or credit customer accounts,” the report says.

Chief Administrative Officer Andre Genre said Thursday customers haven’t been given gas service refunds yet because the city hasn’t been able to determine how much residents were overcharged.

Genre was appointed CAO in July 2012, after the mistakes occurred.

“It’s a detailed, meticulous deal when figuring out gas rates,” Genre said. “We haven’t been able to nail down yet what was being done back then. (The auditor) never gave us a number so that issue is still somewhat unresolved.”

Once overcharges are determined, Genre said, customers likely will see refunds on their monthly gas bills.