The city of Boise's utility billing department rakes in more than $50 million in charges and fees for sewer, solid waste and recycling services. But how it manages that billing is a significant reason for concern, according to a July audit. In fact, the formal review of bookkeeping practices that service more than 130,000 customer accounts each year revealed "significant deficiencies in both core and related areas," and the "deterioration" of timely reconciliations.
Overall, utility billing systems were tagged with a "needs improvement" rating, but citizens should know that the grade is one notch above "unsatisfactory," the bottom rung of a five-tiered ranking system.
Auditors noted that Public Works recently converted its utility division to a new billing system, but "internal control mechanisms do not appear to be completely operational in some areas where they should be."
Among the findings:
: • Policy and procedural guidance was outdated.
: • Significant general ledger control accounts were not reconciled.
: • Policy changes that had been approved in 2012 still hadn't been implemented.
Among the more egregious findings was the fact that some month-end balances of both the sewer and solid waste funds--typically exceeding $4 million--were not reconciled. In March of this year, some general ledger accounts had not been reconciled for up to six months.
Additionally, auditors found deficiencies in management of two initiatives where customers can donate funds to parks landscaping or to assist those experiencing difficulty in paying their utility bills. In fact, the audit revealed that no external agency had been selected to administer the assistance and it turns out that no funds have been disbursed to either initiative for six months or more.
In each instance, city management promised to update policy manuals and to catch up with account reconciliations. But auditors still noted that "some long-term increase in staffing levels may prove to be necessary" to clean up the problems.