Lexington has tightened financial oversight of a division that manages more than $600,000 annually in programs that help poor people stay housed and pay city trash and sewer bills, city officials said Tuesday.
Social Services Commissioner Chris Ford told a committee of the Urban County Council that key changes had been made since a March audit of the Division of Adult and Tenant Services.
The division has been reorganized to increase oversight, he said. Prior to the reorganization, many of the 13 people in the division reported directly to the division director. Program criteria including eligibility requirements are now uniform. All forms have been standardized.
“We have used this internal audit as a building block,” Ford told the council’s General Government and Social Services Committee. “Now everybody is on the same page.”
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“Standards and guidelines were lacking,” Ford said.
The 39-page examination by the city’s internal auditors listed 20 findings related to management of the division, which helps the poor pay for some of their city sewer and garbage bills, oversees an emergency loan program designed to help people pay rent or utilities so they can stay in their homes, and operates a program that allows the city to manage Social Security benefits for people who cannot manage their own.
The audit found tracking was so poor in an emergency loan program there was no way to tell how many people repaid their loans. Under the ordinance, repayment of the loan is encouraged but not required.
“The assistance program activity is not tracked or summarized to provide for an evaluation of the program’s efficiency, effectiveness or prudent use of funds,” the audit found.
Participants are also prohibited from receiving more than one loan in a 24-month period. The audit found multiple instances in which people were given more than one loan within the two-year time frame. That’s because client files were sometimes misplaced or client information was not entered into the city’s financial accounting system, the audit found.
Some clients repaid their loans in cash. But sometimes those cash deposits did not make it into city bank accounts in 48 hours as required. That’s because officials couldn’t find the client files.
“A client loan payment made in August 2014 and found in an employee’s desk on Oct. 26, 2015, still had not been deposited as of Dec. 20, 2015, because the client file could not be located,” the audit found.
Moreover, cash received was sometimes placed in an unlocked drawer, the audit found.
Ford told the committee Tuesday that cash payments are no longer accepted because the emergency loans do not have to be repaid.
Councilman Fred Brown, who serves on the internal audit board and was familiar with the March 2015 audit, said the audit was serious but he was happy with the steps Ford and the division had taken.
“You need to keep following up on it,” Brown said.
Other problems cited in the audit include giving assistance to people who may not have qualified under the program guidelines and sloppy tracking of clients’ Social Security benefit payments.
The audit was for a period from Jan. 1, 2013 to November 2015. Ford, a former councilman, was named social service commissioner in March 2015.
The audit did not find money was missing or any wrongdoing.
Ford said a new case management system will also help in management of client records. That system should be online by December. A follow-up review with an internal audit will be in late winter or spring 2017.
Also during Tuesday’s General Government and Social Services Committee meeting, city park officials told the council they have discontinued parks-run special events concessions in light of a July audit that showed the woman who ran parks concessions had falsified records and circumvented the city’s purchasing policies.
Monica Conrad, the director of parks and recreation, said purchasing policies and inventory management have been revamped throughout the parks department. The July audit found that the woman who oversaw concessions for the parks department frequently falsified records after a special event and failed to properly manage inventory such as soda and other snacks. The woman retired. It was impossible to tell if money was missing because the records were incomplete.
Conrad said third-party vendors are now used for special occasions.