State to audit Vashon Park District

The state auditor's office, prompted by press reports and citizens' complaints, will begin an audit of the Vashon Park District next week in an effort to get a handle on the state of its accounting system.

The auditor's office is required by law to conduct such a review at least once every three years, and the park district was due to have an audit sometime next year, said Carol Ehlinger, audit manager for the state. "We're just doing it a year early," she said.

Citizen reports that the office received via its hotline system plus articles staff read in The Beachcomber "signified to us that there might be some risk out there that we need to address or take a look at," Ehlinger said.

"We're not saying anything bad is going on," she added. "We just don't know what is going on."

A staff member will arrive at the park district's office on Tuesday and will likely spend about three weeks poring over the agency's financial information. The review is considered an accountability audit — a look at the kinds of internal controls the district has in place when it comes to both collecting revenue and spending it and the degree to which the park district is following both state law and its own policies.

She expects to have the audit completed by the end of October.

Susan McCabe, the park district's interim executive director, said the audit comes at a stressful time for the agency, which has lost about half of its staff over the last several weeks to lay-offs, retirements and job changes. "I'm putting out one fire after another, so I'm not really able to run the district as I'd like to," she said.

The audit, she added, is another "huge sucking demand on my time."

What's more, the audit comes at a price; the district is expected to cover the hourly costs of the auditor's time — a price tag that McCabe said could easily reach $10,000. "We're doing what we can to keep their time to a minimum," she added.

Bill Ameling, who chairs the park district's board, said he talked to the state auditor's office and was able to get the auditor to agree to bill the agency next year for its time. The audit is taking place six months early, he added, because of "excessive press coverage and a few complaints."

"It's not a big deal," he said. The state auditor's office, he added, "said they have to react. And 80 to 90 percent of the time, they find nothing."

The next Vashon Park District meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at its Ober Park headquarters. An agenda is posted on its website.


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