2003-2004 audit finally reaches hands of Chester City Council

CHESTER -- Chester leaders recently received one of the city's long-overdue audits. And while some officials are pleased to see progress, the information included in the audit shows just how bad things have been.

The audit, which covers the fiscal year from 2003 through 2004, shows the city lost $436,000 in net assets during that time. The city also overspent by about $160,000.

The main problem was that the city had no formal policies for handling money. Other problems the audit highlighted include:

• Cash deposits weren't made on an accurate or timely basis.

• Bank accounts weren't reconciled on a timely basis.

• Police fines were not deposited or recorded on an accurate or timely basis.

• An entire payroll wasn't properly recorded.

• Checks were written on wrong accounts.

Most of the problems highlighted in the audit have been addressed, city leaders said.

The city now has procedures for handling money, and officials are developing a manual to document those guidelines, Mayor Mitch Foster said.

"That in itself is going to be a stop to ... 90 percent of the problems we've had," Foster said.

During the year the audit covers, council members weren't receiving financial updates, Foster said. Now, they receive monthly reports.

"It was hard for members of council to realize the nightmare they were getting into," he said. "And the same thing for department heads. If you don't get a report of what you've spent or what's come in, how do you operate?"

Foster expects the next audit will be complete in the spring. He hopes to have all the backlogged audits completed by the end of the year.

"I'm just delighted that we've got that year behind us," he said of 2003-2004.

Despite the problems the audit revealed, some leaders found a reason to celebrate.

"It's like a Christmas present for me today to get an actual audit," City Councilwoman Linda Tinker said during Monday night's council meeting.

Good news also came from Connie Cannon, a member of the Columbia accounting firm Camp, Moring and Cannon, which prepared the audit for the city.

She commended the council for wanting to clean up the books and have fiscal responsibility.

"I believe we're headed in that direction," she said.