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Audit: Mo. agencies rushed to spend their budgets

Audit: Mo. agencies rushed to spend their budgets

June 6th, 2012 in News

Some Missouri agencies rushed to spend money on items not immediately needed as their annual budgets drew to a close, though none appeared to blatantly waste taxpayer dollars, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich said Wednesday.

Schweich's report on end-of-year spending focused on five state agencies, which he said stockpiled stamps, bought computer and radio systems for later use and made advance payments on leases during the final two months of the 2010 and 2011 budget years.

In some cases, Schweich said state officials appeared motivated to spend the money before they lost it. Money not spent at the end of a budget year "lapses," meaning it is placed in a general revenue pool that can be redistributed in the new budget year. Some officials may fear that if they don't spend their allotted money, budget writers may assume they don't need it and thus provide less in subsequent years, Schweich said.

"We found many examples of agencies sort of rushing to spend money before the end of the fiscal year and before the money lapses," Schweich said in an interview. But "we didn't find examples of just spending money for the sake of spending money - getting useless items."

Missouri's annual fiscal year ends on June 30.

The audit said the Department of Revenue bought large quantities of U.S. postage stamps during the final days of both the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, essentially subsidizing its postage costs for the start of the next fiscal year. The department also issued a check on June 24, 2011 - about a week before the end of the fiscal year - for a system that converts paper checks into electronic images for record keeping and electronically deposits the payments. However, the state check was not actually released to the vendor until the components were received that September, well into the next fiscal year, the audit said.

Similarly, the audit said the Office of Administration issued a $45,625 check in June 2010 for biometric finger reading security system used by the Department of Corrections. An administration employee, who was not identified in the audit, sent the vendor an email stating: "As we are at the end of the fiscal year, we need to issue a check for this project to ensure that we won't lapse the funding. We will hold this check in our safe until the project is completed."

The check was not released to the vendor until September 2010, the audit said.

Schweich said the delayed checks appear to run contrary to state regulations that generally forbid advance payment for goods and services not yet received and forbid services from being charged to a prior year's appropriation.

Other examples of year-end expenses cited in the audit include the Department of Corrections' purchase of 550 handheld radio telephones and accessories for $313,198 on June 23, 2011. The equipment required programing, yet the bidding process for that programing had yet to begin four months later, meaning the radio telephones were not in use, the audit said.

"There does appear to be an effort to protect budgets" through year-end spending, Schweich said, "and in some cases there's equipment that's lying around not being used for a long period of time."

The audit also cited cases where agencies made extra, year-end payments on leases for vehicles and telephone systems. Sometimes, those advance payments saved the state interest.

The audit recommended that the state Office of Administration consider a policy or support legislation that would provide greater guidance to state agencies about proper year-end use of money.

The Office of Administration said in a written response included in the audit that it will continue to monitor agency spending and consider the audit's findings. It did not commit to make any particular policy changes in year-end expenditures.

"As noted in the audit, there are legitimate reasons for year-end spending by departments, including the need to delay spending to manage agencies' budgets," the administration stated in its response.