Parish earns positive audit response

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 23, 2001


LAPLACE – A recent annual audit of St. John the Baptist Parish’s finances and records brought the first satisfactory response from an auditing firm in years. After several years of being told that inadequate records were being kept, the parish has now received a passing grade. “It’s like getting a clean bill of health,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Clement, who began working for the parish when the Nickie Monica administration began January 2000. When Clement came on a year and a half ago, the parish records were not in good condition. The 1998 and 1999 audits showed that employees had received salary advances, which is not allowed by the state, but the main problem was with financial records. “The idea is to take a picture of the parish’s finances and see how the parish stands in all the different funds, general funds, water system, sewer, special revenues,” said Clement. In the last few years, the parish has received a qualified opinion, which means that the firm can not be sure that everything is accurate, said Clement. “There weren’t adequate records on fixed assets,” he added. Fixed assets, reporting on expensive items in which the costs can be split up over the life of the item, were a problem for the parish for several years. Another problem the parish had in the past was an overabundance of bank accounts. The 90 accounts have been brought down to 40 now, which is the minimum since each fund is required its own account. “A major problem was lack of organization,” said Clement, who has been and continues to work on getting parish records in order. “He’s responsible for cleaning up the mess the records were in,” said Chris Guidry, chief administrative assistant. “We have to show documentation for the spending of public money, and that wasn’t being done properly.” According to Clement, one of Monica’s goals was to do everything he could to clean up the audit. “From my viewpoint, it’s easier when you have the support of the man in charge,” said Clement “The financial position of the parish was not bad with the last administration, but the attention to detail was lacking.” Every March, the parish begins going through the previous year’s finances and then Rebowe & Company, a professional accounting firm, begins the auditing process. June 30 is the deadline for sending the final draft into the legislative auditors, which is required by state yearly. According to Clement, if a problem arises throughout the year, his office must report it to the legislative office. For example, they report any fraud or theft as soon as it is recognized and devise a plan of rectifying it. The parish received an unqualified opinion for the year 2000. That means that adequate records proved how money was spent. The fixed assets problem was remedied. The final draft will be presented at a finance meeting Tuesday night, and following that presentation, the legislative auditors will get their copy for review. Though the parish received some advisory comments, which means that the firm recommends a few changes to make things run more smoothly, there was only one reportable condition. A reportable condition is more serious. From 1999, the parish went from 24 advisory comments to 11 in 2000, and from six reportable conditions in 1999 to one in 2000. Misappropriation of $58,234 by a former cashier at the service center in Garyville brought the parish the reportable condition, but $36,219 of that was returned. A total of $22,015 is still missing. The parish notified the legislative auditors and district attorney after finding out that the money was missing. Since they caught the problem internally within a matter of a few weeks, they reported it. The cashier confessed and was relieved. “If that were to ever happen again, we would catch it in a matter of days,” said Clement, who has implemented what he said is a better checks and balances system. “Any place where cash is being collected, that potential is there,” he added. “Restructuring of some of the job duties in the department gives us a better system. It is improving our controls and getting our people more specialized.” The total revenues for 2000 were $27,803,637 and the total expenditures were $23,138,754. “We’ve made great strides,” said Clement, “but we still have a lot more to do.”