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State auditor critical of city practices

Spokane may have overcharged the public for police accident reports, overpaid for the $2 million gondola renovation and failed to adequately monitor an ambulance contract that led to overbilling.

Those were among the draft findings of the state auditor’s office, which reviewed the city of Spokane’s books for budget year 2005. The report was made public this week.

It contains five formal “findings” in which the city was found to be violating state and federal requirements. The exam also included a “management letter” making a series of recommendations for better handling public money. The city was cautioned against charging $12 for auto accident reports unless it can show that it costs that much to provide them.

Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley said none of the findings involved any kind of corruption, and that the city needs better documentation to back up some of the accounting issues raised in the audit.

Budget Director Tim Dunivant described the audit as the state’s way of saying, “These are areas where you can do better.”

The auditors criticized a decision by the Parks and Recreation Department to suspend competitive bidding and award a $2.3 million contract to Doppelmayr CTEC, of Golden, Colo., for the gondola replacement in Riverfront Park. “The city limited competition for this project, which may have increased the cost and violates state law,” the draft audit said.

Parks officials had said they chose Doppelmayr because they were convinced the worldwide company was the only one that could fill their needs.

In an official response included in the audit, the city apparently conceded the point, noting it offers training to employees who make purchases. “The training will continue to emphasize the proper documentation and procedures to follow in these areas,” the city’s response said.

The auditor also came down on the city for failing to adequately monitor compliance with contracts involving state grants for street projects, a contract with the state to maintain parking under the Interstate 90 viaduct and a contract with American Medical Response. A separate audit of the AMR contract requested by the city fire chief in 2005 showed that patients were overcharged $320,000 for a two-year period starting in January 2003.

The state audit noted that the city was receiving $25,000 a year through its contract with AMR to perform contract compliance.

On street projects, the city mistakenly kept $104,000 from a portion of property purchased but not used for right-of-way. The unused property was resold. In other transactions, the city received $58,000 more than was allowed under its grant with the state, and kept an additional $22,000 in another.

The city is disputing the auditor’s findings that it received $300,000 in excess revenue from its contract to maintain parking under I-90. The city said the contract with the state transportation department does not address disposition of net earnings off the parking, and thus, the city is properly managing the contract.

In the area of federal contracts, the city was criticized for failing to adequately document administrative charges made against large community development and housing grants, and for not adequately ensuring eligibility of subcontractors under the grants.

Federal street projects also had problems with handling of money associated with the resale of the unused portions of property acquired for right-of-way.

The city said it is working to resolve the issues in both areas.



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