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Mabton audit reveals shoddy business operations

An audit requested by the Mabton City Council last summer has been released and shows poor operating procedures from the period June 1, 2003 to September 30, 2006.

Although the city council has remained silent on the audit and its reasons, Mabton Councilman Mario Martinez said council got the idea of an audit when the city was looking to hire a police chief last summer. The council requested the audit and then suspended city administrator Ildia (Jackson) Heitzman with pay until the results of the audit came back.

The purpose of the audit was to determine if the city had adequate internal controls and followed state laws.

Several questionable practices were noted by the State Auditors Office (SAO).

The SAO found a $1,400 salary adjustment payment to the city administrator's assistant on July 15, 2005. This adjustment was charged to a Traffic Safety Commission Grant. Supporting documentation for the payment stated the city obtained a letter from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission stating that the city was allowed to use the grant money as a one-time salary adjustment for the project coordinator.

The SAO reviewed city council minutes for May, June and July 2005 and didn't find any mention of the council approving the adjustment. According to the audit, this violates state law and federal grant requirements because the adjustment was not approved by council. This also presents a risk that unallowable costs were charged to the grant.

Martinez said he was unaware of Mabton employing a city administrator assistant.

The SAO also reviewed the use of the city credit card and noted concerns with some transactions. In 2006, there was a city credit card bill of $1,322, of which the city paid $938. Heitzman then paid $384 of the bill using her own personal finances. On another bill, Raul Almeida, the former police chief for the city of Mabton, paid $100 of a $924 credit card bill. Almeida was unable to provide receipts to support the business purpose of the charges.

The SAO wrote in its findings the city should retain all credit card receipts and that city credit cards should be used for city business only.

At the September 12, 2006 meeting, the city council approved the surplusing of five computers for sale to city employees for $25. The SAO found the computers were given away prior to approval by city council and that the city never received payment, resulting in a gift of public funds, which violates city policy. The SAO recommended the city follow its policy and approve the surplus of assets before they are disposed of.

Another transgression the SAO found was when a Mabton police officer was enrolled into the Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters (LEOFF) retirement plan without being fully commissioned. This made the officer not eligible for the plan and resulted in overpayments to the LEOFF retirement plan.

The SAO recommended the city monitor eligibility requirements of police officers prior to enrolling them into the retirement plan.

The SAO selected three reimbursement claims for the Washington Traffic Safety Grant for testing to ensure that charges for police officers' overtime were properly calculated and billed. The SAO noted that each reimbursement claim reported an overtime hourly rate of either $37 or $30 for each police officer. Based on a review of city payroll records, the SAO noted that the actual overtime rate ranged from $15 to $23.40 per hour. This resulted in an over billing of $1,488.

The SAO also noted the city received a total of $233,691 in grant payments from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission for the period of January 2004 through September 2006. When the reimbursement claims were obtained from the city and looked at, $38,818 worth of reimbursement claims could not be located.

The SAO also found the city had paid $2,000 for child safety seats in February 2005 to use in the city's traffic safety education projects. The cost was reimbursed through Washington Traffic Safety Commission grants but the SAO noted that as of December 2006, the city still had most of the child safety seats. By not distributing the safety seats within a reasonable amount of time, the city did not follow through with the purpose of the grant, said state auditors.

The SAO found that nine payments totaling $3,189 were made to Mabton's Explorer Post, a program run by former Chief Almeida. Each payment was adequately supported and determined to be an allowable charge to the grant, but it was noted the payments were mailed to the home address of Almeida. Although no concerns were noted, the SAO wrote in its findings this presents a possible conflict of interest.

Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera declined to comment on the findings of the audit, referring questions to the city's attorney, Kirk Ellis. Ellis could not be reached for comment.

The mayor did say she hopes to have a decision in a couple of days on what to do with Heitzman.

"It's been a long process," Martinez said. "We're looking forward to getting it resolved and moving forward."

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