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Council Comments on Cost of Comprehensive City Audit

Meiying Wu/KBIA

City Council members discussed the results of the Missouri State Auditor’s cost estimate for a complete audit of Columbia’s finances at their Monday night meeting.

Mayor Brian Treece talked about some council members’ “sticker shock” at the price estimate and offered a suggestion about what to do.

“At some point there should be a mechanism to let us hear from the public again as to their perception of the cost and time (of the audit) versus the public’s confidence,” Treece said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala suggested that the audit be limited to Columbia Water and Light, citing the lower cost and time spent on only auditing the utility.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters noted that she had only heard negative comments about the price of the audit from her constituents.

Talk of a potential audit of city finances began after letters from the Columbia Police Officers’ Association, Columbia Professional Firefighters, the Columbia Board of Realtors and the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 773 requested it.

At the Feb. 20 city council meeting, Mayor Treece expressed his agreement with the agencies’ request and called for a resolution that would start the process of gathering information about the audit to be placed on the next council agenda.

Treece said at the Feb. 20 meeting that he felt the audit could increase the public’s confidence in the city, and could identify potential savings that could be put towards a community policing program.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the council at its March 5 meeting, which began the State Auditor’s Office’s process of determining an estimate for the city.

A report detailing the State Auditor’s initial estimate was placed on Monday’s council agenda. The cost of the audit would range from $500,000 to $750,000, and perhaps more, according to a council memo. The memo also noted that the cost of only auditing the electric utility would range from $125,000 to $175,000.

Individual audits of various departments would make up the comprehensive audit and would take two to three years, with reports coming out as they are completed.

If the city chooses to go through with the audit, the council would have to draft a letter of memorandum that would lay out the city’s approach to the audit. Once that is agreed upon, the State Auditor’s Office would come up with a more precise cost estimate and draft a letter outlining the city’s payment and responsibilities during the audit.

If the council approves the terms and payment in the State Auditor’s Office’s letter, the audits begin.

For now, the council’s next move will be to discuss the potential use of the city’s fiscal 2017 savings as a source of funding for the audit at their May 21 meeting.

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