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California parks agency's accounting problems began sooner than thought

An audit finds inaccurate reporting involving two accounts since at least 1993. It also finds $3.9 million in unused donations.

December 21, 2012|By Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times
  • A view of Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County is shown. Au audit released Friday found that the California parks department's accounting problems were going on for longer than had been revealed.
A view of Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County is shown. Au audit released… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — The California parks department had accounting problems for longer than previously revealed, according to an audit released Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown's Finance Department, and officials had no plans to spend $3.9 million in unused donations.

The audit said department officials had been inaccurately reporting the amount of money in two accounts since at least 1993. That's about a decade longer than finance officials identified this summer, when it was revealed that parks had a hidden surplus of $54 million.

The controller's office, which signs the state's checks, was getting correct information from the parks department, the audit said. But the Department of Finance, which works with the governor to create a state budget, was not. Finance officials were not comparing the two sets of data until this year.

Parks officials were "intentionally under-reporting fund balances to Finance for development of the Governor's Budget," the audit said. The audit did not assign blame or say why the money was reported inaccurately.

The review also raised questions about how well officials track donations, which have been a crucial lifeline for parks threatened with closure because of budget cuts. In one department account containing about $20 million in donations, $3.9 million hadn't been earmarked for projects. Of that, $1.5 million sat unused for at least eight years.

In a written response, parks officials said they have increased internal oversight of their budget and will tighten their procedures for tracking donations.

The audit is the second review this week to find accounting problems in the parks department. On Tuesday, the controller's office said payroll policies weren't being followed and some employees may have been paid more than they were entitled to.

Two more reviews are still underway, one by the state auditor and one by the state attorney general's office.

chris.megerian@latimes.com

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