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State auditor's office finds errors in St. Louis city towing division records

The second of three formal audits of the city's streets department gave it the second lowest rating on the state auditor's scale.

ST. LOUIS — The Missouri state auditor’s office released its audit of the City of St. Louis Department of Streets and gave an assessment of “Fair,” the second worst possible result on its rating scale. Findings included towing rates that haven’t been reviewed in 14 years and failures to follow procedures to deny permits to contractors who owed the city money.

The fifth report released so far this year from the auditor’s office started as a formal request from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Many of the findings pertain to the towing division, which has also been the subject of a Board of Aldermen committee investigation and an ongoing financial audit that the city began in 2019. The state auditor’s office focused on the fiscal year ending in 2019.

For the towing division, the auditor’s report states that “significant control weaknesses” exist because the division handles so much cash.

“The Towing division's accounting controls and procedures for recording and reconciling payments collected were poor,” the report states, and “division personnel did not consistently follow these procedures.”

The auditor’s staff found different amounts of money recorded in the towing division’s handwritten ledger and what they reported to the treasurer’s office.

For a single month, the auditor’s report states, more than $24,000 in auction receipts and $13,000 in towing receipts were recorded as cash when they really occurred by check. The auditors also identified different amounts recorded in the handwritten ledger and in the Regional Justice Information System (REJIS).

The street division’s response to the audit report, included in the report, states employees no longer use the handwritten ledger and management is keeping track of discrepancies. It's director said she's using the review to re-examine the department, which she just took over four months ago.

"As the director, this really helps me out as I look at the look at the culture, the processes and accountability of our employees that we have here," said Betherny Williams, Director of Streets.

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The auditor’s office also found that contractors for the street division were able to buy work permits even though they owed the city money. Contractors and vendors who owed money for damaging light poles or other property were not referred to the city counselor’s office, leaving more than 80 accounts with more than $200,000 in damages more than 90 days overdue before they were sent to the office as required.

Other findings in the report highlight issues with the refuse division’s records of scrap metal received at its transfer stations and a failure to do an annual physical inventory of its assets.

The city's tow lot was the focus of numerous 5 On Your Side I-Team investigations. Specifically, when drivers of cars would attempt to retrieve their cars from the lot, with little to no success. Williams insists any policy or process changes made within the department will be announced to the public as they happen.

"Once that process is identified, we will make sure the public knows about it," she said. "They will have all the information of where they can call and find funds or retrieve funds. If that is the process and that is the law in place, we will implement that."

State Auditor Nicole Galloway's office sent a statement saying "We have made recommendations to the Department of Streets regarding the accounting and management deficiencies our audit uncovered. Any next steps are up to the city of St. Louis."

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