COLUMBUS – The Village of Blanchester’s failure to maintain receipts for more than $7,000 in credit card purchases yielded audit citations from the state for the second audit in a row.
According to a Tuesday press release from the office of Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost, the audit also uncovered $280 in prohibited credit card purchases.
The report names Assistant Utilities Director and the village’s Board of Public Affairs Manager Jim Myers responsible for the unsupported and improper spending, which occurred in 2015 and 2016, according to the auditor.
“Blanchester officials have again demonstrated an inability to use credit cards responsibly,” Auditor Dave Yost said. “It’s time to take the necessary steps to prevent wasteful spending and ensure a complete record of every transaction.”
Mayor John Carman told the News Journal Tuesday that, while he hasn’t seen the new audit, the village is working on fixing the issues and that most of it is in relation to a previous audit.
He added that the audit should not be a reflection of Myers because he’s just the one who handles the bills.
A statement from Blanchester Fiscal Officer Jewelie Casteel stated that since the village’s ‘13-‘14 audit wasn’t completed and released until 2017, it didn’t give them a sufficient amount of time for the staff to improve the credit card payment process.
“Obviously, by that time, both 2015 and 2016 fiscal years’ books had closed, and the window of time to improve upon processes for those years in question had passed,” said Casteel’s statement. “Unfortunately, this, in turn, managed to carry some of the same findings over to the 2015-2016 audit to a lesser degree, since plans were underway in the beginning stages to correct relevant deficiencies.”
Both Casteel and Carman said there have been improvements between the ‘13-‘14 audit and the ‘15-‘16 audits. Casteel said this is confirmed by state auditors.
She added the village has taken strides to increase transparency, including joining the Ohio Treasurer’s Checkbook.com in April 2018.
“The Village of Blanchester adopted credit card policies and additional compliance measures in 2017, and Council is hopeful this will greatly reduce these opportunity areas in time for the next audit,” she said.
The News Journal has left messages for Myers for comment.
According to the release from the auditor’s office:
• The audit flagged 51 purchases totaling $7,467 that lacked receipts to prove they served a proper public purpose. Through other means, auditors determined that $7,023 of the spending was allowable, but they could not validate the remaining $444.
• Another two purchases totaling $280 were supported by receipts, but they did not meet the standards of a proper public purpose. The spending consisted of $255 in clothing purchases at Field & Stream and a $25 membership fee for the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Washington, D.C.
• Blanchester’s board of public affairs, which oversaw the spending, did not have a credit card policy in place at the time of the purchases. The board approved a policy on Feb. 23, 2017.
• Auditors issued a $724 finding for recovery against Myers because he approved the credit card invoices and submitted them for payment. He repaid the village on May 21, 2018.
The village’s previous audit, released in March 2017, ordered Myers to repay another $3,411 for problematic credit card purchases made in 2013 and 2014, according to Yost. He repaid that amount in January 2017.
The previous audit also cited the village for using the Electric Fund instead of the Water and Sewer funds to pay the salaries of utility employees. Because the village has yet to end the practice, the Water and Sewer funds owe $673,346 to the Electric Fund as of the end of 2016.
A special report released by the Auditor of State’s office in July 2017 highlights the risks local governments face when they fail to institute and enforce basic credit card policies. Since 2011, more than $1.2 million has been stolen or misspent at Ohio governments through credit card abuse.
With the support of Yost, state lawmakers passed legislation this past June requiring local governments to establish policies regulating credit card use.
A full copy of this report is available online at http://bit.ly/2LVO16u .
The News Journal has reported that the village’s Board of Public Affairs has been under fire this year for what some residents say are abnormally high electric rates.
A petition was being circulated in the village in the spring to present to the BPA to investigate costs. One resident stated then that her family was moving to Hillsboro due to their recent bills; a real estate agent said the rates were affecting buying and selling of property in Blanchester.
BPA Manager Jim Myers stated in April that locals are welcome to stop in and discuss their bills, but he said very few had taken them up on the offer.
Myers stated then that the past winter was a harsh one and that the bills fluctuate depending on factors including the severity of winter weather and heating method utilized.