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Audit rips city's parks department

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A scathing audit criticizes the city's Parks and Recreation Department and other departments for failing to send out bills and collect payments in a timely manner, keeping checks in a desk drawer for extended periods, maintaining insufficient accounting records and not making daily bank deposits.

The results of the 21-page report, completed by the local accounting firm of Poulsen & Podvin CPA, was released at the Watertown City Council work session Monday night. Council members found the report on their desks just before Monday night's budget work session.

They had been bracing themselves for the unflattering report, which addresses the recreation department's messy bookkeeping and accounting problems that have come to light in recent weeks. The problems surfaced when council members learned last month that the Watertown Wizards baseball team owed the city more than $46,000 for use of the field at the city-owned Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds for seasons as far back as 2002.

The auditors checked for such things as overbillings and reviewed how payments are received; the accuracy and timelines of the billing; the frequency of bank deposits; and procedures for accounts receivable. Using a sampling method, they looked at financial records and documents from the past three years in such areas as the ice arena, lease agreements with the Watertown Wizards, Watertown Golf Club and Watertown Hockey Association, and baseball and other field usage.

What they found was "a disorganized and cluttered Parks and Recreation Office" that lacked general accounting and bookkeeping practices, according to the report. They also found a lack of communication, accountability and supervision between Parks and Recreation, the Public Works Department — which oversees the department — and the city's comptroller's office, the report said. Internal controls and separation of duties were also problems.

Auditors noted "a certain amount of confusion (between staff) and conflicting opinions about exactly what tasks are to be performed and what procedures should be required or followed," the report said.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he had about an hour to look at the report before the council meeting, but already found it interesting reading. He planned a more thorough perusal in the coming days before the auditors meet with the council at 6:30 p.m. June 1 to answer questions about the report and get a better explanation of its findings.

"I think it's a candid and constructive look at the situation," he said. "The revelations are interesting."

Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns, who contended early on that the estimated $8,000 audit was needed, said she looked forward going home after the meeting, having a cup of coffee and staying up late to read it.

"The curiosity will get the best of me," she said.

Some of the revelations in the report:

n It took as long as a year to get bills out for field or arena use, causing a senior account clerk to contact customers to verify dates of use. Several uses were never billed.

n Some 63 users of the department's programs — including some from last year's golf program — had their uncashed checks returned to them because banks no longer would accept them. The participants received a letter this spring from staff asking them to send in new checks. A senior account clerk failed to deliver the money to the comptroller's office because she mistakenly thought an invoice had to be generated from the city's financial software.

n The newly remodeled ice arena concession stand — the department took it over this past season — did not use a cash register to track sales. Money was kept in a cash box and placed in an envelope noting the amount of cash inside and dropped in the safe lock box in the concession area.

n The comptroller's office and recreation department staff "have no set procedures for the collection of accounts receivable."

n The department's billing system isn't "clearly defined" and is "not effective."

n The staff didn't follow policies that are in places for deposits and aren't enforced by management.

As a result of the more than weeklong audit, the auditors have come up with a series of recommendations that would correct internal controls of operating inefficiencies. They include:

n A centralized billing system.

n Establishing an employee flow chart that would define job responsibilities more clearly, so staff know exactly to whom they should report and what tasks and procedures are to be performed.

n Establishing an organized and logical filing system, making it easier to access documents and forms.

n Setting up a counter at the public entrance to prevent people from entering restricted areas.

n The department supervisor should reconcile billings weekly and the public works manager should inspect the information monthly.

n Making deposits daily.

n Fees should be charged for the use of ball park lights, for the use of tables and chairs and for taking down equipment.

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