Twenty-five thousands dollars. At least. That's how much a contractor managing a public golf course owes the city, according to the Washington State Auditor's Office.
The city's four golf courses and Riverfront Park, all overseen by Spokane Parks and Recreation, have problems with managing cash, a revelation that turned up in a recently concluded audit of Spokane and detailed in a letter sent to city officials.
The state auditor periodically will examine how local governments manage taxpayer money. On March 2, the state watchdog issued a report on the city of Spokane, examining a range of city functions. The report, for the most part, found the city did a good job of safeguarding public resources.
However, the state auditor issued a separate letter to city officials detailing the cash-handling problems at the golf courses and Riverfront Park, both of which are in the process of upgrading intended to draw more visitors.
Although the state auditor did not issue a "finding," which suggests a more serious problem, Councilman Mike Allen, who is the council liaison to the Spokane Park Board, says that the problems at the golf courses are unusual and a cause for concern.
"That's a public trust with those dollars," he says. "And that has to be accounted for."
According to the letter, cashiers at the city's four golf courses, which earn about $3 million annually, didn't follow cash-handling policy and discrepancies in reconciliations weren't documented or investigated.
According to state auditors, Spokane Parks and Recreation contracts with four golf professionals who manage the courses. Under this arrangement, all credit card sales are deposited into accounts owned by the professionals, who are required to perform revenue reconciliations and pay part of the money back to the city under the terms of their contracts.
"During prior audits we noted weaknesses in internal controls over cash receipting, contract monitoring and contract compliance which increase the risk for loss," reads the Feb. 23 letter from the state auditor. "Although some improvement was noted during the current audit, we found the City still did not have adequate internal controls in place to effectively monitor golf course activity and ensure compliance with the contract."
Leroy Eadie, director of the parks department, says that the professionals keep most of the money from the driving range and golf carts and all of the money from the pro shops and sale of golf balls. The city keeps all the revenue from greens fees, he says.
The audit also found that one individual was not remitting money back to the parks department, as required by their contract, and owes at least $25,000.
Eadie says that the professional, Gary Lindeblad, disagrees with the finding that he owes that much, and the issue is being resolved between the two parties. He also says that he does not suspect Lindeblad of theft.
Lindeblad manages Indian Canyon Golf Course, which is currently undergoing renovations to make it more attractive to golfers. Eadie says the cash-management issues at Indian Canyon are completely separate from that work.
The audit also raised concerns at Riverfront Park, which both Eadie and Allen say are less troubling and more easily fixed.
The park has a vault, containing $25,000 from April through August and $18,000 from September through March, that is used by cashiers at the park's restaurant, SkyRide, IMAX theatre and other services, according to state auditors. The audit found instances where vault counts weren't performed or retained, or discrepancies in counts were not explained or documented.
"During 14 days tested," reads the auditors' letter, "daily banks totaling $144,000 were checked-out to cashiers but only $101,000 was identified on the vault count sheets as returned with deposits."
The audit was "not able to determine if a loss of funds occurred" at Riverfront Park.
Eadie says that his department moved an accountant from the park over to City Hall during the audit, and the park didn't have good cash-tracking procedures in place during the transition. But the department followed up on the accounting and found that no money had been lost, says Eadie.
"There's absolutely no money missing [from Riverfront Park]," he says.
Spokane Parks and Recreation is relatively autonomous from the rest of city government and is overseen by its own board. Council President Ben Stuckart says he doesn't want to micromanage the situation, and he trusts Eadie and the board to resolve the issue.
Last November, voters approved a $60 million bond for a Riverfront Park renovation, which will provide improvements and repairs to the park. Eadie says that these are separate pots of money and any problems with cash management at the park won't affect how the bond is implemented. ♦