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Auditor stings city again

Filings were late, as usual.

It what has become something of an annual ritual, the city was chastised this week by the state auditor.

For the 19th time in 22 years, the city failed to submit financial documents on time for its annual review, the Washington State Auditor’s Office said in a Dec. 26 report covering fiscal year 2002.

The city’s financial statements included “numerous errors,” the auditor found. Required statement balances were missing; some monetary figures were incorrect, while others varied from document to document.

“The city did not make proper financial reporting a priority,” the auditor concluded. “Further, the finance department did not have a monitoring process in place to ensure the financial statements were accurate and complete.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who has tried to bring the city into compliance with audit requirements during her two years in office, Monday attributed the latest problems to “poor planning” by the finance department.

The department reportedly struggled in adopting new standards for financial reporting.

“It’s a disappointment, which is kind of an understatement,” Kordonowy said.

The city has had run-ins with the auditor’s office for years – decades, actually – problems that reached a nadir 18 months ago.

In a two-year audit covering fiscal years 1999-2000 and released in June 2002, the auditor’s team found the city’s books in such disarray that it could make no sense of them and ultimately “disclaimed” the entire review.

While no fraud was discovered, dozens of checks could not be accounted for, some billing records were in shambles, and proper cash-handling procedures had been violated.

The city fared better in a September 2002 report on the 2001 books; the auditor concluded that the finance department had corrected earlier problems, and even managed to file required statements on time.

This time around, the auditor found no problems in areas ranging from competitive bidding to management of forfeited property to “timely deposit of public funds.” The deficiencies instead had to do with meeting the audit requirements themselves.

Acknowledging that other local jurisdictions seem to have considerably less problem meeting those requirements, Kordonowy likened the latest rebuke to stumbling on the sidewalk when others are watching.

“We’ve got to learn to quit tripping,” she said. “Some of these things are so basic, after 12 years (as a city) we need to start doing them.”

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