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New audit of St. Louis city government finds outmoded computers and underperforming parking meters

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 22, 2008 - New state audits of the city of St. Louis found outdated computer systems in the comptroller's office, parking meters that cost more money than they bring in to the treasurer's office and possible violations of the city charter in the running of the city's parks.

The new reports, released Monday by Missouri Auditor Susan Montee, are the latest audits conducted under a petition submitted to her office by members of the local Green Party. (The Green Party requested an audit originally because of concerns with how money in the city's lead-poisoning prevention program was being spent.) The first audit reports, on the Board of Aldermen, Board of Public Service, Supply Division and Personnel Department, were released in September.

The audit of the comptroller's office found that computer systems from the 1970s and the 1980s do "not provide the information necessary to efficiently operate the city." In many cases, the report said, other city offices have to maintain separate financial records or rely on manual processes because of the outmoded computers.

It also found that the comptroller's office does not have adequate procedures to verify payroll data and cannot be sure that transactions are processed correctly.

Responding to the audit's findings, the comptroller's office said it agrees that updated computer systems would make its operations more efficient and would eventually pay for themselves. It noted that requests for better computers have been denied repeatedly, a response it blames on "budget restraints and political climate."

In the city treasurer's office, the state audit found that a dormant account contains unidentified funds from other accounts that were closed 10 or more years ago totaling about $350,000, plus another $170,000 in outstanding checks that are from 1 to 8 years old.

It also found that in 43 cases, employees of the treasurer's office were related to other employees, and in at least once instance, a supervisor signed the daily cash report of a parking attendant who was related to him.

Also, the audit found that the city's parking division has not analyzed the costs of parking meters compared to the revenue they bring in, so in some cases the meters cost more than they generate in revenue.

Specifically, the report said meters in the city generate from $870 a year down to $21 a year, with the average cost of each meter being $41, including salaries, mechanisms and other costs. The audit suggested that low-revenue meters could be serviced less often, freeing money and personnel for other duties.

In its response, the treasurer's office noted that other factors besides revenue are weighed in determining where meters should go. In some cases, removing low-yielding meters may actually reduce the overall revenue from certain areas, because meters that are in heavier use may be avoided so drivers can move to the areas where meters have been removed.

The audit of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry noted that the Board of Parks and Recreation, which was established by the city charter, has not been active for more than 25 years. By creating other panels such as the Forest Park Advisory Board to perform the duties of the earlier board, the audit said, the department appears to be violating the city charter.

In its response, the parks department suggests amending the city charter to do away with the earlier board in favor of boards that can help administer specific parks.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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