Agency vexed with fiscal fiasco

Housing official says services to residents shouldn’t be affected.
Friday, February 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:12 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Columbia Housing Authority must make up $200,000 of its $9 million operating revenue this year.

Its top accounting manager resigned Wednesday due to the administration’s dissatisfaction with his work.

Genie Rogers, vice chairwoman of the commission, said services to residents shouldn’t be affected by the shortfall.

Financial reports submitted too late

Administration officials said their complaints stemmed from comptroller Darrell Wattenbarger’s failure to provide financial reports on time. The agency didn’t learn of this year’s deficit until January, three months into its fiscal year, Director Doris Chiles said.

Chiles said this failure didn’t allow her or the board of commissioners to oversee the agency’s level of expenditures.

In an emergency staff meeting this week, the agency said it could save about $150,000 by Sept. 30, the end of its fiscal year, Chiles said. Several vacant positions will remain unfilled, and Chiles said the authority hopes to save money by contracting an accounting service instead of hiring a new comptroller.

Additional savings will come from a change in health insurance providers, Chiles said.

The accounting firm Williams Keepers, LLC, completed an external audit of the agency’s books this month. Stephen C. Smith, a partner with the firm, said his audit discovered no mismanagement of funds or fraud. Wattenbarger transferred $200,000 from the authority’s 2004 capital project fund to cover operational costs in 2003. Such a transfer is legal and is allowed under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, Smith said.

Wattenbarger says lack of resources caused delay

Wattenbarger said Chiles asked him to resign. He said he transferred the money two weeks before the end of the fiscal year because the authority was spending more. Setting up new insurance, worker’s compensation payments and an influx in utility payments led to additional costs, he said.

Although Wattenbarger admits that he could have consulted with Chiles more about the transfer, he said he believes it was blown out of proportion.

“I don’t think they knew before if they were overspending in prior years,” he said. “So I went ahead and drew money down to pay the bills.”

Wattenbarger said he couldn’t finish financial reports on time because the authority wouldn’t cooperate. The accounting software was insufficient, and the authority wasn’t supportive of having it repaired or replaced, he said.

“I was still out burning the midnight oil,” he said. “It just took a lot longer to do it that way.”

The authority denied Wattenbarger’s request to hire a qualified accountant at $22,000 to help him, he said. A certified public accountant since 1978, Wattenbarger said he understood the HUD accounting system; he just wasn’t granted the resources to do the accounting on time.

Although a previous comptroller left Wattenbarger with a backlog of accounting work, Chiles said she believes the problem was with Wattenbarger’s work habits, not the software.

Late financial records cause lower HUD rating

Other than three reports related to the delayed financial records, the agency complied with HUD standards and corrected four reported problems from previous years, Smith said.

The authority received a “standard” rating instead of “high” rating on its annual HUD public housing evaluation because the financial reports were late.

Smith said the authority managed the situation well.

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