Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has asked the city comptroller to conduct regular examinations of several agencies that have not been audited in decades, starting in the Department of Recreation and Parks.
The request came Tuesday as City Council members discussed Councilman Carl Stokes' bill to require city agencies to be audited every two years, and touched off a back-and-forth with Comptroller Joan Pratt about why it had been so long since the last review of the parks department's capital planning arm.
Rawlings-Blake said in a letter that she has asked for the audits before, and decided to put it in writing Tuesday. Pratt says the administration has not given her staff the information it needs to conduct the inquiry.
The Department of Audits, part of Pratt's office, reviews the finances and spending of city agencies and comes up with suggestions about how they could be more efficient. Both Pratt and Rawlings-Blake say they are trying to come up with ways to do more frequent analyses given the city's budget challenges.
Rawlings-Blake's Finance Department has said the cost of the bill would be prohibitive, noting that there are 55 city agencies that would be subject to the prescribed reviews.
According to testimony at the hearing from Chris Delaporte, the former director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, it has been years since the last audit of the department, which hinders its ability to make a well-organized budget for the following year. Delaporte no longer works for the city.
Delaporte compared the necessity of an audit to needing grocery store receipts to budget for food.
The audit also helps residents evaluate whether their tax dollars are being put to good use.
"If we want the word 'transparency' to have definition and meaning to the city government then, very simply, do independent audits on a routine basis," Delaporte said.
The Department of Audits has 37 full-funded auditor positions, accounting for $3.9 million of the city's budget. According to mayor's statement, this group is assigned the task of conducting audits of the financial transactions of every municipal agency at "appropriate intervals," as well as a single annual audit of all accounts of the city.
Of those 37 paid positions, 31 are actually filled — one of the main reasons Pratt said the Department of Audits is struggling to keep up.
Rawlings-Blake said she's made it a priority to maintain staffing levels in the Department of Audits.
"Despite major budget shortfalls, we have made funding for additional auditor positions in the Comptroller's office a priority," she said in her letter. "My administration also worked to raise the pay range for new auditors to … attract new, qualified suitors."
That aid has only put a dent in the gap that exists between city auditing pay and the salaries at the state and federal levels.
Pratt said auditors can now make up to $45,000; the maximum salary for a Maryland auditor is $62,000, and federal reviewers are paid as much as $70,000.
"We've made a conscious effort, but because salaries are higher on the state and federal levels, we haven't been able to attract people that are graduating," Pratt said.
However, the Department of Audits has made two offers recently and is aggressively pursuing others to fill the remaining vacancies, according to Pratt.
"We think we've found a strategy that works in that we're hiring retirees who are receiving a pension, where salaries aren't as important," she said.
Once those positions are filled, Pratt is hopeful that the department could keep up with the bill's requirement of inspecting each agency once every two years, but admitted it would take a commitment by Rawlings-Blake to provide manpower and funding.
The measure could go to the full council for a vote as soon as next week.