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Granger facing major audit woes

GRANGER - Credit cards issued without Granger City Council approval, totaling about $400,000 in charges, are just part of far-reaching audit findings the state issued against the city.

The findings against Granger were released yesterday, Monday, by State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office as part of an audit of the city for the years 2005 through 2009.

The audit issues included:

- 17 credit cards issued to the city without council's approval, with charges of $74,000 to $84,000 annually for each of the five years of the audit period.

- At least three times city employees exceeded the credit limit of the cards.

- Five city employees apparently received favorable treatment when they were late with utility payments.

Three did not have utilities shut off as required by city ordinance, one received a billing adjustment without proper approval and in one other case auditors could not determine if shut off occurred for utility non-payment.

- From 2005 to 2007 the city overspent budgeted appropriations by more than $600,000 without budget amendments.

- Auditors also found fault with Granger for lacking policies related to purchases, cell phone use and checking accounts.

- Granger has no policies regarding employee timesheets or recording paid leave.

- Sonntag's office noted Granger spent about $30,000 during each year of the audit on using manual treasurer's checks that were unapproved by council.

- More than $7,000 is still owed to municipal court defendants who had their citations reduced.

"The city is unable to determine the amount owed to the State Treasurer for unclaimed bail and restitution because the records are in such disarray," Sonntag's office said in the audit finding.

"We need accountability"

Mayor Ramona Fonseca took office in January 2008, and admits her city has work to do.

She says one of the first things she did when taking office was asking the state for an audit. "I wanted to know where we are and what we are doing," she said.

Sonntag in the audit report said Granger is audited every two years, but due to issues with financial operations in 2007 the decision was made to do a five-year audit.

While some of the findings involve activity before she took office, Fonseca noted some of the findings involved ongoing activities that continued since she took office.

"I didn't know that we didn't have policies for this and for that," she says.

Fonseca says the immediate impact from yesterday's extensive finding is that Granger has locked away the credit cards and checkbook.

Since there is a balance on the cards they can't be eliminated, she said, and council will have to take action to approve each card.

Then again, lots of action will be needed in the coming weeks and months.

"We have to set up policies and procedures," Fonseca says. "I don't want disarray for our community. This is the bottom line, 17 pages of single-spaced type (the audit and findings) and we are working on that diligently."

She added, "Now I know what the problems are and we're going to fix them."

Fonseca pledged that every single one of the audit issues will be brought to the city council.

"We can't keep doing the same things just because they've always been done that way," she says. "We need accountability."

"Let's stop it"

Fonseca said when taking office she eliminated a policy that led to yet another finding Sonntag's office issued yesterday; Granger police in uniform charging for event security and not depositing the money into city accounts.

"I knew this was happening, so when I came into office I said let's stop it and then there is no cause for this being an issue," Fonseca said.

Since 2008 the city has contracted with the Sheriff's office for event security. The audit finding, though, indicated Granger might return to having police provide the service.

Fonseca confirmed that Perales has made the proposal and that council will consider it at its meeting on Sept. 27.

Looking ahead

Fonseca admits it will take time to right the city's books.

With a population now topping 3,000, she says it might be time for the city council to consider hiring a city administrator to help with day-to-day procedures.

"If you have a city administrator under the supervision of the mayor, then many of these findings would have been avoided," Fonseca asserted.

"The size of our city is ready for a city administrator," she says. "Money is an issue, but we've grown enough we can do that."

Whatever steps or changes the city makes to address the laundry list of findings, Fonseca said the public needs to be the first and foremost priority.

"We have more than 3,000 bosses," she says. "We have to respond and consider each person."

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