Waste audit finds no new issues

A state audit of the regional waste agency that was released this week supports old findings and uncovers no new problems or questionable practices.

Issues from 2013 and earlier at the regional landfill near Fort Dodge were restated in the report from the Iowa auditor of state’s office. Those issues were addressed in an earlier report.

Officials with the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency have acknowledged the problems in the past. They said they have either been corrected or are being corrected.

The new report is the regular yearly audit for the solid waste agency, covering fiscal year 2012-2013. An earlier report, a special reaudit, was released in December 2013. It covered two fiscal years, from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2013.

“A lot of surprises were found as a result of that reaudit,” said Interim Director Cindy Turkle. “For the fiscal year 2013, there was a need for a lot of improvements in bookkeeping programs, computer programs and all those things, and we have new staff.”

Both reports were prepared by the Iowa auditor of state’s office.

Staff changes reflected in the most recent report include the replacement of former Landfill Director Mike Grell with Turkle in April 2013, and the termination in September 2013 of Deb Watson, the agency’s director of recycling and administration/finance.

Both reports note that Gypsum Hollow Industries was paid $995,694 for hauling gravel to be used in cell development from September 2012 through February 2013. The bidding process was not completed properly, according to the report, and GHI was owned by Grell’s son.

Both reports also note a lack of segregation of duties, in which one employee handled the accounting system, bank reconciliations, receipts and disbursements. It shows vendor invoices do not include evidence of approval, and checks were signed by one person with a stamp, instead of by two people as required.

The agency’s response of changing staff and adding new procedures is noted in the report.

Of the gravel hauling, the agency wrote, “The agency recognizes this was an unacceptable practice by staff who no longer work for the agency. Current staff and board members know the importance of competitive bidding and will not tolerate such action again. All purchases will be conducted competitively and in accord with state law.

“The Agency has consulted with legal staff regarding all of these inappropriate actions.”

The earlier reaudit report also noted that the agency sold 27.2 acres of land in May 2012 to an adjacent property owner for $5,695, or $209 per acre. The land was later assessed at a value of $10,810 by the Webster County assessor.

The agency did not have an appraisal done prior to selling the land, nor did it seek to identify any other interested parties to bid on the land.

As The Messenger previously reported, the board has filed a complaint with the Webster County attorney regarding some of those past actions.

“We’re asking the county attorney to investigate possible past misappropriation of funds,” said Mark Campbell, executive board chairman.

County Attorney Cori Kuhn Coleman has said she can’t comment on pending criminal investigation.

The latest report states revenues and expenses both have increased. The agency had total receipts of about $3.88 million for the year, a 2.1 percent increase over the prior year.

Disbursements for the year ending June 30, 2013, totaled $3.78 million, a 39.5 percent increase over the prior year. A significant portion of this increase was related to construction of a new cell, the report stated.

Turkle said that construction is still ongoing.

“There was a lot of money spent in that fiscal year for engineering consulting costs by previous engineering firms,” she said. “Also one of the big expenses was that purchase of sand and rock” from GHI as previously mentioned.

The yearly audit for the period ending June 30, 2014, will also be prepared by the state Auditor’s office. Officials plan to be on site in November to conduct the audit, Turkle said.

“It will be easier for them because we have computerized everything,” she said.