City of Aspen’s internal audit is underway
January 31, 2015
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick is hoping to receive useful information, not just historical data on failed parking practices, when a $48,000 independent report on the city's financial systems is returned in late February.
With Aspen City Council approval and input from a resident-led financial advisory board, the city has hired a Denver-based auditor for the report, which will focus on data from 2014 and 2015. The firm, Colorado Independent Consultants Network, will examine cash-handling procedures, transaction accounting and recording in the following city departments: Parking, Finance, Recreation, Golf and Utilities as well as the Wheeler Opera House.
"We're hoping that they're going to make lots of recommendations," Barwick said of the firm on Thursday. "After all, we're spending $48,000. We want to get something substantive for that money."
The audit comes in the wake of Aspen's parking scam, a four-year debacle that cost the city anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000 since 2010. Councilwoman Ann Mullins said Friday the purpose of the audit should be to not only prevent future gaffs but to determine how the scam happened in the first place. She listed a lack of accountability, communication and reporting as contributing factors.
"In a good system, you have one person that's accountable, but you have a good line of communication so that they can move up the line with questions and problems," Mullins said. "All the blame shouldn't rest on one person. There should be a clear decision-making process."
Even though parking revenue increased during the scam, fraud should have been detected, she said. Mullins added that she's happy the city chose an accounting firm that has not previously worked with Aspen. City officials caught a lot of criticism for initially reaching out to Avon-based McMahan & Associates, an accounting firm that conducts the city's annual audits.
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"Overall, I think it's really a good effort," Mullins said. "I think in the end, it will be money well-spent."
On Monday, Councilman Dwayne Romero asked why the audit is only examining the past year and not further back.
"It's the systems that are currently in place," Finance Director Don Taylor said, adding that the audit will delve further back with the Parking Department.
According to the scope of work described in the contract, Colorado Independent Consultants Network will review material linked to the city's parking meters, pay-by-phone transactions, tickets, fines, construction parking, garage parking, permits and passes.
In the Finance Department, the firm will examine general cashiering, the city's sales tax and the city's lodging tax. In Recreation and Golf, the firm will assess passes, program fees and merchandise sales. In Utilities, the firm will examine water, electric and tap fees and at the Wheeler, ticket sales, commission and bar and merchandise sales will be looked at.
The city has implemented a number of changes following the parking scam. In October, Barwick reassigned Parking Director Tim Ware to a position supervising Aspen's ice facilities, lowering his annual salary from $87,520 to $58,340.
Another miscue occurred in November, when Utilities Manager Dave Hornbacher and Assistant City Manager Randy Ready admitted mistakes in misrepresenting the need to complete a drainline associated with the Castle Creek Energy Center. Barwick then promoted Capital Asset Director Scott Miller to a newly created Public Works director position, which resulted in the redistribution of upper-level management responsibilities.
As the audit is focused on cash-handling procedures and not management practices, there will be no review of the City Manager's office, Taylor said Thursday.
The council-appointed advisory board — which included Former Clorox Co. executive Pete Louras, retired banker Howie Mallory and Aspen Music Festival finance administrator Jenny Elliot — assisted Barwick and Taylor in the decision to hire the Colorado Independent Consultants Network. The firm is expected to return the audit Feb. 28, and the council will review the findings shortly after.