A resolution supporting an audit of all the offices, departments and divisions of the City of Columbia was unanimously approved by the City Council at a Monday night meeting.
The resolution calls for City Manager Mike Matthes to obtain the estimated cost of an audit from State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
The idea of a state audit was brought to Mayor Brian Treece in separate letters from the Columbia Police Officers Association, the International Association of Firefighters and the Columbia Board of Realtors.
Treece said he thought “this would be a great opportunity for the council to help improve public confidence to demonstrate that we are an effective organization when it comes to basic budgeting and financing obligations.”
Although the city conducts an internal audit every year with the Comprehensive Annual Finance Report, a performance audit by the State Auditor never has been carried out.
A performance audit “looks at things a lot differently,” said Maria Oropallo, a member of the city’s Finance Advisory and Audit Committee. The audit is “much more detailed and has a value attached to it.”
Oropallo said the performance audit looks at the three E’s: efficiency, effectiveness and economy. The annual audit looks at whether the money used was recorded and whether it was used for its recorded use.
The annual audit costs the city about $100,000 per year, and the cost of the state audit is unknown.
“If for no other reason, this may be the cheapest way for you to buy some confidence in the city council from the people who are out there,” said Paul Love, resident and candidate for the Second Ward City Council seat. The previous attempted tax increases from the council “just haven’t done well,” he said.
Dale Roberts, executive director of the Columbia Police Officers’ Association, said he hopes the audit would restore a lack of confidence in city finances.
“I think that confidence was reflected in the inability for us to pass that public safety tax in the past,” he said.
The proposed property tax increase, which was struck down in 2014, would have funded 40 police officers and 15 firefighters.
Peter Norgard pointed to recent reports that “suggest a lack of clear and transparent management.” He specifically addressed Columbia Water and Light’s forecasts for energy consumption that enabled an increase in utility rates for residents, regardless of their use of the utilities.