Water districts' errors noted

Karcher Creek Sewer District and Annapolis Water District received three reports from the Washington State Auditor’s Office questioning their accounting procedures on two different matters this week.

According to one report, the Annapolis Water District overstated its revenues by nearly $200,000. Meanwhile, the other two reports also discuss the Karcher Creek and Annapolis take issue with the two districts’ handling of a controversial junket last fall by commissioners and staff to Europe in order to personally inspect systems the Karcher Creek and Annapolis were considering installing.

According to the report, the commissioners’ failure to record the minutes of meetings discussing the European trip, in addition to the decision to have the district pay for travel days that “were not necessary to conducting District business,” was problematic.

The trip was scheduled so commissioners and staff could learn about water and sewer systems and the group came under fire when a TV news report said the districts may have mishandled public funds by using money for entertainment rather than work-related espenses.

The report indicated that three commissioners stayed in Paris for two additional days, costing the district $2,696 in hotel and per diem expenses. “We see no public purpose for this additional expense,” the report stated.

Annapolis and Karcher Creek General Manager Larry Curles responded, calling the reports “a fair audit.”

The reports outline the response from the districts following the audit and indicate they have rectified the situations in question.

In the report, the districts’ responses indicated that future trips will be recorded in a summary and placed in the record. It stated “the district will continue to limit its travel expenses for only District business.”

Curles explained that the trips were discussed, but staff had left before the study session, and thus no minutes were taken for the conversation.

Meanwhile, the overstated funds issue at Annapolis, Curles said, dates back to mistakes made in 2000. Curles said no money was kept or lost, but district officials simply balanced the books incorrectly.

In response, the Annapolis Water District has replaced its accounting specialist. Curles said the previous employee left for health reasons, and the timing was coincidental.

Annapolis also assigned management duties to the Karcher Creek finance staff and sent employees to intensive accounting and software training.

These reports follow the initial scrutiny of the trip to Europe and a $10,000 fine earlier this spring from the Department of Ecology for failure to comply with regulations on processing biosolids.

Curles said the districts’ flurry of problems are, in part, due to coincidence, and in part due to taking on bigger projects.

“Karcher Creek and Annapolis are stepping out,” Curles said. “We’re trying to get more done than we’ve done before.”

And that leads to more rules and regulations.

“When you try to do something new and better, sometimes you trip and stub your toe,” he said.

The districts will continue to pursue these projects, he said. The district recently received $200,000 grant to start a project cleaning and reintroducing sewage water into stream flow.

The districts also want to sell methane gas to the Veterans’ Home at Retsil, and to reinstate its biosolids program. The group is still in litigation with Ecology to reduce the $10,000 fine and have the initial order rewritten to reflect Karcher Creeks attempts to make high quality biosolids.

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