UPPJ financial position improves slightly

By Luke Britt/Editor

An increase in assets with only a minimal increase in expenses left Union Parish in a slightly better financial position at the end of 2022 than it was at the end of the 2021, according to the Union Parish Police Jury’s annual audit. 

The audit, completed in mid-August, found no major issues with the jury’s financial reports, although auditors did point out that the jury is technically responsible for an error made by the  D’Arbonne Water System when it applied state bid laws to a project that, because it was paid for with federal grant money, should have followed the stricter federal procurement guidelines.

Auditors also looked into an August 2022 incident in which a parish employee performed unauthorized ditch and road work that benefitted that employee’s family and determined that the jury responded appropriately to the incident.

Accountants with the firm Bosch and Statham, LLC, made their formal presentation of the audit during a meeting of the Police Jury’s Executive Committee Tuesday. 

Police Jury President Brenda Abercrombie credited the $4 million in federal Covid grants the parish received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) with helping the parish purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new equipment, boosting the parish’s total asset value. 

“As terrible as COVID was for every person and most all businesses, the monies the parish and towns received was a need and a blessing,” Jury President Brenda Abercrombie said. “It allowed us to do so many things we would not have been able too, such as the (Detention Center) finally working in the black, the purchase of much needed equipment for the road and landfill departments.  We were also able to help with funds for several water department as well.”

The audit also reflected only minimal increases in expenses from 2021 to 2022.

“I personally work off the yearly budget we created,” Abercrombie said. “I compare the monthly revenue and expense reports we receive to make sure we are in the range we should be so we do not over spend.”

According to the audit, the Police Jury ended 2022 with $40,214,5033 million in assets, or about $4 million more than the $36,112,049 held at the end of the 2021. The parish was carrying $13,837,039 in liabilities at the end of 2022, or about $800,000 less than the $13,016,486 in liabilities carried at the end of 2021.

The audit identified two instances where mistakes occurred that were serious enough to be deemed “deficiencies.” 

The first incident occurred in August 2022 when road crew employee Cody Ramsey, during his first week on the job, used a parish road grader to remove dirt from a ditch and then used that dirt to improve the condition of a nearby private road that led to a camp owned by his family.  According to the audit, Ramsey performed the work without authorization, which the audit said violated Police Jury policy, state law and the state ethics code for public employees.

The audit said Ramsey received a written reprimand the following week and the Police Jury notified their auditors of the incident, as required by law. Ramsey no longer works for the parish.

The audit recommended that the parish ensure that employees are trained to understand the laws and policies unique to public employees and recommended that parish employees be required each year to document with their signatures that they understand what is and is not allowed.

The second deficiency occurred when the D’Arbonne Water System, using $252,228 of federal ARPA grant money allocated to the system by the Police Jury, issued four separate contracts to make improvements to four wells. By breaking the four wells into separate projects, the per-well cost fell below the threshold where state law would have required a formal bid process. 

Under the Louisiana bid law, projects costing less than $250,000 require “quotes” from interested vendors, rather than formal bids. Whereas a quote is typically a simple document that may include nothing more than a bottom-line cost, a formal bid involves a more detailed discussion of specifications, materials, warranties, etc.

According to the audit, all projects funded with ARPA funds must comply with federal procurement laws, not state laws, and federal law requires formal bids in all cases, regardless of project cost.

While the Police Jury was not involved with the well projects or the selection of contractors, auditors determined that the Jury should have ensured that the Water System understood the federal procurement requirements attached to ARPA funds. 

“The expenditure of the American Rescue Plan Act funds is uncharted territory for everyone,” auditors wrote. “It does not appear that the Police Jury or the Water System intended to circumvent any policies, regulations, or laws.”

After being alerted to the issue, the Police Jury hired a consultant to ensure ARPA funds were spent in accordance with federal requirements, the audit said. 

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