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Oberlin records, COVID-19 funds, employee payments cited in audit

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(The Center Square) – Failure to maintain budgetary records, misused federal funds for COVID-19 relief, and possible illegal payments to city employees have been found in the audit of a Louisiana town.

Oberlin requested the examination by the state auditor’s office.

In a report dated March 12, the office of state Auditor Michael Waguespack found the Allen Parish town did not have proper records for adoption of a budget for each fiscal year from June 30, 2021 to June 30, 2024.

The town received more than $640,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, but didn’t budget use by ordinance as required by state law. According to the audit, the town paid more than $35,000 to elected and appointed town officials; that may not have been proper. The report also said four town employees and the town attorney received payments from ARPA funds, but officials had no records showing what work was performed.

The audit also found that the town’s former finance clerk, Angelina Conner, used 43 hours of sick leave she didn’t earn, which “may have violated town policy and state law.”

Former town clerk Charlotte Artis was paid nearly $11,000 for overtime from March 30, 2022, to Dec. 19, 2022; the Town Council had passed a motion on March 16, 2022, to eliminate overtime in all departments. Oberlin Mayor Larry Alexander didn’t approve her timecards and she signed all but one of her payroll checks.

The town also operated its own Local Agency Compensated Enforcement program without a required agreement with the district attorney and issued citations for state law violations instead of town ordinances in contravention of state law.

According to the audit, Oberlin Police Chief Grady Haynes improperly reduced or modified 25 tickets given under the LACE program, changing them from moving to non-moving violations from October 2021 to February 2023.

The town was cited for using more than $192,000 in restricted sales tax revenue for general payroll expenses in violation of the tax proposition passed by town voters.

Oberlin was the subject of an audit in 2022 that found late payments for payroll taxes, pension obligations and invoices along with issues concerning how the town manages public utilities.

In its response letter, Alexander says the town is “striving to be good stewards of the public funds with which we are entrusted.”

According to the letter, the town has hired a CPA firm to help officials ensure proper budgets are drafted and managed as required by state law. The town will also maintain a line-item budget that will be adopted by an ordinance and will implement a new system to verify and track sick and vacation leave time.

The town also says it has set up an account for handling restricted tax revenue and all transfers will have invoices attached.