Auditor finds lack of control at Chattanooga swimming pools

Auditor finds lack of control at Chattanooga swimming pools

May 24th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Channelle Rogers, left, and Lontiasha Burress play basketball in the pool at the Brainerd Recreation Center. Watching is Dwight Turner, right, and lifeguard Tim Francisco. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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An audit of city swimming pool collections found weaknesses and lack of control at several locations, including not always ringing up cash into the registers, charging higher rental fees than allowed by city code and letting documentation slip in contracts.

The swimming pools audit is the third negative audit of the Parks and Recreation Department in a year. The city's pools take in about $25,000 to $30,000 annually, officials said.

But Mayor Ron Littlefield said last week he does not see the report as damning to the department.

"Anywhere where people pay there will be problems," Littlefield said.

Parks and Recreation is a department that will always be audited frequently because it takes in so much cash in its various programs, he said. Plus, the audit shows how the Internal Affairs Department works with the city departments to make sure controls are in place.

AUDIT FINDINGS

The city's Internal Audit division examination of the Department of Parks and Recreation's pool division includes:

Funds are not always secured at recreation centers and cash is left in registers overnight.

Rentals and swim programs are not always rung up on the cash registers and there are instances of customers not receiving receipts.

Documentation is not always adequately provided by the Chattanooga YMCA for a contract with the city regarding a tune-up clinic for swimming provided at the North River YMCA.

Higher rental fees were being charged at the new Spraypark than what is set by code; approved rental fees range from $90 to $175, but actual fees ranged from $90 to $300.

Source: Internal Audit Division

"It is for identifying problems, that's what it does," Littlefield said. "We identify the problems and deal with them."

In the latest audit, conducted by the Internal Audit division from Nov. 1, 2009, to Oct. 31, 2010, the report concludes there were several problems, including leaving cash in registers overnight, not charging proper fees for programs and activities and not properly administering a contract with the Chattanooga YMCA.

The Parks and Recreation Department first got nipped in an audit last year that identified weaknesses with a contract between the city and the Chattanooga Zoo. The city later gave all responsibility for running the zoo to the Friends of the Zoo organization.

The department received another negative audit in December when the audit department said there were red flags in the policies of Outdoor Chattanooga, problems that could make it easier for theft to occur. Any potential wrongdoing still is under investigation.

Larry Zehnder, Parks and Recreation director, said this week his department has been dealing with control problems since January. He said he has assigned a fiscal analyst to follow up with how divisions are handling cash, instituted monthly cash-handling seminars and put in a policy that requires new hires to have experience handling money.

Many hires first come in under other programs that don't require money handling as part of their duties, he said.

"They were hired as a recreation leader, they were hired as a lifeguard," he said.

Zehnder said if the rules are not followed, employees could be fired.

"If they are not following policy, there will be consequences," he said.

Zehnder contends, though, that there are some discrepancies in the latest audit, such as money being secured safely within the pool houses. He said there were safes at three of the city's four pools - Brainerd Recreation Center, South Chattanooga Recreation Center and Warner Park pool. A safe since has been installed at Carver Recreation Center, which gives more adequate protection of cash flow as outlined in the audit.

The report also states the YMCA and city signed a contract to offer a tune-up clinic for young swimmers to get back into the hang of swimming at the North River YMCA. But auditors found the YMCA did not give proper documentation of collections from the clinic to the city.

The agreement between the city and the North River YMCA expired last Wednesday.

"Before we renew again with them in September, we'll make sure everything is followed," he said.

YMCA officials said they would be happy to work with the city on the matter. Randy Brown, president and CEO of the YMCA, said the YMCA has every intention of cooperating.

"Whatever we need to do in terms of reporting and documentation, we'll be happy to do," he said.

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.