NEW CUMBERLAND-The state of West Virginia is auditing Hancock County Parks and Recreation after several years of being unable to obtain financial records for the department, officials said.
While such audits are routine, the state's review includes the last four fiscal years and comes at a time of reorganization and change at Parks and Recreation.
West Virginia Deputy State Auditor Stuart Stickel would not comment on the audit, except to say that it is required by law, that it is ongoing and that a report is "at least a couple months" away.
Clarke Field in Newell is one of the parks maintained by Hancock County Parks and Recreation, whose financial records are being scrutinized by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Thomas Keller, president of the Parks and Recreation Board of Directors, characterized the review as a forensic audit. "We don't know what the problems are. We don't know how deep this goes. We just know that there were a lot of questions," he said.
State audits of local government entities are normally done every year. In the case of Hancock County, however, the auditor's reports for fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011 note that county financial statements did not include financial data for the parks and recreation board.
Such an omission was a departure from "accounting principles generally accepted in the United States" and made it impossible for auditors to accurately assess the financial health of Parks and Recreation, the annual reports said.
In the reports, the parks and recreation board is described as a "discretely presented component unit" of Hancock County. As such, Parks and Recreation is fiscally under the authority of Hancock County commissioners, although it is governed by its own board of directors.
Keller said the department hadn't been audited in years, but no one knows why. "For some reason, they were overlooked," he said.
"I think everybody ought to be audited. I think it's a good thing to have done," Commissioner Dan Greathouse said, adding, "I just wish it had been."
Commissioner Jeff Davis said commissioners previously sought financial records from Parks and Recreation to forward to the state but were unable to do so.
"The (internal) audits were never turned in to Hancock County commissioners," Davis said, "so we couldn't provide that information to the state auditor when they audited our books. We had requested it, and the state auditor had contact with Parks and Recreation.
"Once the commission knew that contact had been made between the state auditor and Parks and Recreation, we obviously thought that the problem was taken care of," Davis said.
This year, Davis said, commissioners made sure the department's financial information was provided to state auditors.
Neither Davis nor Greathouse said they were concerned about the audit's potential findings.
"I just want to make sure the Hancock County Commission is in good standing with the West Virginia State Auditor's Office," Davis said. "We've always had good reports from the state auditor's office, and we want to make sure it stays that way."
The audit comes at a time of other changes in the works for the department, which oversees Kennedy Marina and Campground, Clarke Field, Lawrenceville Park, Cove Valley playground and the Gas Valley Road recreation complex.
Commissioners are soliciting candidates for a reorganization of the parks and recreation board. The nine-member board has several vacancies, and the terms of current members have all expired, Davis said.
"No one was told when their term was up," Keller said.
According to bylaws recently revised by the park board, members are to serve three-year terms and are to be appointed by county commissioners-three from each magisterial district. Current officers include Keller, a two-year member who was recently named president, John Adkins, vice president, and Bill Miller, secretary-treasurer.
Keller succeeds Keith English, who previously served as board president and manager of Kennedy Marina. Officials would not discuss why English is no longer on the board or working at the marina. English was on the park board's payroll, said Cindy Jones, county administrative assistant for finance.
The marina, previously operated by a couple, reverted to county management after 1997, Greathouse said.
Commissioners want to privatize the marina's operation and are soliciting bids for a "qualified vendor to supervise, operate and regulate the marina on a commission basis," according to the bid document.
"We want to get out of the marina business," Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said.
Davis said whoever gets the contract will have to submit a development plan and reinvest the profits into the operation of the marina, which includes a concession stand, boat docking, boat launches, and camper and trailer rental.
Under the agreement, the county would receive a minimum of $2,000 of marina revenues each month-or $24,000 a year, Davis said.
Unlike other county parks, Kennedy Marina's operation is funded through revenue it generates from concession sales, rentals and fees, Davis said.
Maintenance of the remaining county parks is covered by county commissioners through the hotel occupancy tax. Revenues from the 6 percent tax are split evenly between Hancock County and the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which incorporates Hancock and Brooke counties and the city of Weirton.
Parks and Recreation gets about $50,000 a year from the hotel tax for basic operations and maintenance, Davis said. Any capital improvements are covered by commissioners.
Deadline to submit bids for the marina operation is 4 p.m. March 22. The contract will be awarded on March 28.
Deadline to apply for a park board position is 4:30 p.m. March 22. Selections will be announced at the March 28 commissioners' meeting.