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County park board faces an uncertain future

December 18, 2013
By STEPHEN HUBA - For The Weirton Daily Times (shuba@reviewonline.com) , Weirton Daily Times

NEW CUMBERLAND - Although it has instituted a series of fiscal reforms, the Hancock County Parks and Recreation Board is facing an uncertain future in light of a critical, four-year audit by the state, the board president said Tuesday.

"We had to go back and start over on the whole thing," board President Thomas Keller said. "We had to start fresh with all new books."

The state audit, which covered the fiscal years 2009 to 2012, said it could not account for tens of thousands of dollars in payroll, marina and vendor expenses, and noted 11 areas where the Parks and Recreation Board was deficient.

Investigators with the West Virginia State Auditor's Office said their work was hindered by the lack of proper records, including receipts, financial statements, meeting minutes, and written policies and procedures.

Auditors also issued a special report that has been submitted to Hancock County Prosecutor Jim Davis, who would not rule out presenting the information to a grand jury in January.

Keller, who was named board president earlier this year, said the board has sought to resolve all the findings in the audit, most of which had to do with transparency and better record keeping.

"I'm glad to say that at this point, it's all been taken care of," he said.

Keller said many of the changes were instituted earlier this year and are in keeping with past recommendations from the board's accounting firm. (See sidebar.)

Keller said the board's new part-time administrator, Rebecca Harris, has a background in accounting and is the only person on the payroll.

The board also had to purchase a new computer and new accounting software, because the state auditor's office confiscated the old computer, he said.

Although the Parks and Recreation Board was reorganized in March, it currently is operating with two vacancies, Keller said. The vacancy left by the April resignation of Catherine Colabrese has not been filled, and board member Albert Jesse Mestrovic III recently submitted his resignation, Keller said.

"It's hard for us to get people on the park board," he said, noting that Mestrovic, assistant superintendent of Tomlinson Run State Park, is resigning because he is being transferred.

Former board President Keith English was on the payroll as general manager of Kennedy Marina and Campground in Newell but was let go earlier this year, Keller said.

"That was then, that was those people. None of those people are working for Parks and Recreation now," he said. "We have new people on the park board. We're being monitored closely."

Keller said the biggest impact of the audit has been a greater level of oversight of the board by Hancock County commissioners.

"We simply can't do anything. If we want to make an expenditure ... we have to ask the commission for money," he said. "What's going on is: We're not operating as a park board. We're being micromanaged by the commission. The commissioners are pretty much making every decision, as far as how we're operated."

Commissioner Dan Greathouse said he doesn't think of the oversight as micromanagement but as the necessary result of the audit's findings.

"The bills now come to the county commission, and we pay them. We give them an allotment (of $2,200) each month ... and they can spend up to that allotment," he said.

Greathouse said the change puts the Parks and Recreation Board on the same footing as the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop, the Hancock County Animal Shelter and the county volunteer fire departments.

"Anybody who gets money from us has to submit their bills," he said. "We go through each bill, and we look at it before we approve it."

Greathouse said the system, as it currently applies to the Parks and Recreation Board, may not be permanent.

"Until everything comes out from this audit and we figure out what's the best way to operate ... it behooves us to do that," he said. "After this thing has run its course, we'll look at it again."

Keller said he understands the commissioners' concern but added, "We also have to concern ourselves with (the fact that) the commissioners saw what was happening ... and they didn't do their part to keep that from happening."

Greathouse acknowledged that the commissioners "weren't keeping a close enough eye on this. I think that's fair to say."

The audit, which began in March and was posted to the state auditor's website in November, cited the Parks and Recreation Board for, among other things, poor record keeping, failing to enforce policies governing revenue receipts at Kennedy Marina, neglecting to collect state sales tax on goods sold at the Kennedy Marina gift shop or on camp site rentals, and providing lax oversight of disbursements.

The report on internal controls said that, in the four years covered by the audit, Parks and Recreation Board employees "appeared to receive" $91,260.21 in compensation in excess of that reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

"Board officials have not ensured adequate controls and procedures over the payroll functions," the report said. "Officials failed to establish policies and procedures to ensure that employees are compensated only for hours worked."

The report also said auditors could not account for $31,249.05 in Kennedy Marina revenues between 2009 and 2012. The revenues had been recorded in the computerized receipt system but could not be traced to cash deposited into the bank, the report said.

"Board officials failed to establish and enforce policies and procedures governing revenue receipting for goods and services provided at Kennedy Marina," the report said. "Transactions are not properly recorded, and control over collections is compromised."

Hancock County commissioners removed Kennedy Marina from Parks and Recreation Board authority earlier this year. It is now operated by a private contractor who shares revenues with the county. Commissioners still are awaiting final approval of the contract by the National Park Service.

In a third area, the report said auditors could find no IRS documentation for $25,214.59 that had been paid to vendors for services to the board between 2009 and 2012.

"Controls, which ensure proper IRS reporting, were not adequate," the report said.

The report also said the board "failed to maintain an adequate record of certain transactions which took place during the year," including itemized claims for each expenditure, deposit records, receipts for all revenues, and details of employee salaries and hourly wages.

The Parks and Recreation Board oversees Clarke Field in Newell, Lawrenceville Park, the Gas Valley Road sports complex and the Cove Valley playground near Weirton. The board's budget comes primarily from the state's hotel/motel occupancy tax.

Revenues from the 6 percent tax are split evenly between Hancock County and the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which incorporates Hancock and Brooke counties and the city of Weirton.

Parks and Recreation gets about $50,000 a year from the hotel tax for basic operations and maintenance. Capital improvements are usually covered by commissioners.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)

 
 

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