Damning audit report claims mismanagement of public funds, lack of oversight and accountability
Lincoln, CA- A concerned group of local citizens raised the red flag regarding Lincoln’s financial mismanagement that would eventually instigate an audit. Now the City of Lincoln is facing some serious heat following the release of the California State Auditor’s report. The report asserts Lincoln’s mismanagement of public funds, insufficient accountability, and inadequate oversight threatens the city’s financial stability.
California State Auditor’s office letter
March 21, 2019
Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:
As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report pertaining to the city of Lincoln and its administration of public funds and assets. This report concludes that Lincoln’s mismanagement of public funds, insufficient accountability, and inadequate oversight threatens its financial stability. Specifically, the city made questionable loans, transfers, and allocations during fiscal years 2013-14 through 2016-17 that did not always follow state law. The city used reserves from restricted funds designated for specific purposes for unrelated interfund loans and transfers, even though it was not able to demonstrate that the borrowing funds could repay them. Additionally, Lincoln misrepresented its financial position by temporarily transferring amounts from a restricted fund to offset significant year-end deficits, thereby presenting those funds as if they were solvent.
Lincoln also overcharged developers and builders for the cost of water infrastructure and capacity, which resulted in the city accumulating nearly $41 million in its water connections fund as of June 2017. In addition, Lincoln undercharged developers for city staff costs to administer development projects. Until fiscal year 2018-19, Lincoln based these charges on cost data from 13 years ago, even though staff costs have increased by an average of 6 percent per year since that time. Further, Lincoln failed to pay for its own use of municipal utilities and instead passed these costs on to ratepayers, violating provisions of the state constitution. Although the city acknowledged that it should have paid more than $1.6 million for its share of water, sewer, and solid waste services during a four-year period from January 2014 to February 2018, it has yet to provide equitable consideration to its ratepayers.
Finally, Lincoln did not establish or consistently follow key policies and procedures to ensure compliance and transparency in its financial practices, which resulted in questionable spending and management of public funds. In each of its past several financial audits, Lincoln’s external financial auditor reported recurring deficiencies, including the city’s inability to accurately prepare its financial statements at the end of each fiscal year.
Chief Deputy State Auditor
Auditor’s Summary Findings
Incorporated in 1890, the city of Lincoln operates under the council-manager form of government: its city council is responsible for its governance, while a city manager oversees the city’s operations. From 2000 through 2010, Lincoln was one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, expanding from 11,000 to 43,000 residents. However, by the end of the decade, the local and national economies were in decline, and Lincoln’s development was severely curtailed. The city experienced significant fiscal challenges as a result. In fact, Lincoln fully depleted its unrestricted general fund balance in fiscal year 2008-09, although it had increased the balance to $8.7 million by fiscal year 2016-17. In recent years, a citizens group raised concerns related to Lincoln’s finances, including its interfund loans and transfers, the fees it charged the public, its use of municipal utilities, and its general management of public funds. Our report concludes the following:
Lincoln Made Questionable Loans, Transfers, and Allocations That Did Not Always Comply With State Law
Lincoln established restricted funds related to its different functions to ensure that it uses the revenue it receives for the purposes for which that revenue was intended. However, it used those funds to make unrelated interfund loans and transfers that it may not be able to repay. Further, as a result of loans and transfers, the city misrepresented the financial position of several funds: although these funds had year-end deficits, the loans and transfers made them appear as though they had positive fund balances. Finally, Lincoln violated the state constitution by using surplus revenue that property owners in certain areas paid in landscaping and lighting assessments to cover costs associated with properties in other areas.
Lincoln Did Not Accurately Charge the Public for Certain City Services
Lincoln overcharged developers and builders for water infrastructure and capacity, thereby accumulating a fund balance of nearly $41 million as of June 2017. Further, Lincoln undercharged the public for other services, such as building inspections and permit administration. Lincoln also violated provisions of the state constitution by failing to pay for its own use of municipal utilities, including water, sewer, and trash collection; it instead passed these costs on to ratepayers through increased utility rates. Lincoln has not refunded or provided equitable consideration to ratepayers for the increases in their rates resulting from the city’s use of utilities.
Lincoln Did Not Establish or Consistently Follow Key Policies and Procedures to Ensure the Appropriate Management of Public Funds
Lincoln lacks key policies and procedures to ensure consistency, compliance, and transparency in its financial practices. Moreover, Lincoln did not follow its existing policies by obtaining the appropriate approval from the city manager or the city council for expenditures, resulting in questionable spending.
City of Lincoln Responds
In a letter to the California State Auditor’s office, dated March 1, 2019, the City of Lincoln has agreed to a host of recommendations. See their response here.
View the full report