Modesto has allocated $1.46 million for travel expenses in its upcoming budget year for employees and elected officials to attend conferences, seminars and trainings.
That’s not an insignificant sum. But an audit has found Modesto lacks comprehensive policies for employees and elected officials to follow, is not sufficiently monitoring expenses, and lacks a consistent method to discipline those who violate the rules.
Moss Adams — the CPA and consulting firm the city has retained as its auditor — reviewed how well Modesto monitors travel expenses and the city’s travel policies and procedures at the city’s request. Mayor Ted Brandvold asked for the audit. “It confirms what I suspected,” he said. “We don’t have a comprehensive travel policy. And we need one.”
The audit is based on an examination of 35 travel claims from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. The claims are representative of the types of travel and training employees and elected officials undertake.
Some of the highlights:
▪ Modesto’s Municipal Code states travelers must use the most economical mode of travel, but one claim showed the traveler rented a car and drove 208 miles, even though the airport and the hotel where the conference was held were four miles apart, according to the audit. There was no indication that approval was sought to do this, and the additional expenses were not deducted from the traveler’s reimbursement.
▪ Lodging costs may not be the most economical. The Municipal Code says travelers must seek the government rate and that rate or lower rates are “presumed to be reasonable and hence reimbursable.” But the audit found 24 instances in which the nightly cost for a room was on average more than $60 above the government rate. There was no documentation showing “that a good faith effort was made to find a more economical rate.”
▪ Modesto does not have a policy stating when travel starts and ends. The audit found six instances in which an individual traveled before or after a conference or training, incurring extra costs to the city, such as an additional night in a hotel. An example: A conference in Las Vegas ended 2 p.m. on Nov. 4, but the return flight was nearly a day later at 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 5. The audit said there were no explanations regarding these travel days, such as a traveler’s inability to book a return flight the day a conference ended.
▪ Modesto does not have a formal process to compare the amount authorized for travel versus the amount reimbursed. In one instance, the cost of the trip was $521.26 more than the estimated cost. The audit also found large differences in costs for travelers who attended the same conference.
Budget Manager Steve Christensen said the $1.46 million is for training, seminars and conferences held locally, throughout California and outside of the state. He said the top three departments that have been allocated these dollars are utilities ($456,878), police ($388,850) and fire ($131,710). He said the majority of the three departments’ training is mandatory.
The audit does not provide the names of people who submitted the 35 claims. It does not say anyone engaged in wrongdoing, and there could be good reasons for the expenditures, but the claims lack sufficient documentation to determine that. Moss Adams also provided an array of recommendations for the city to implement to improve its travel policies and oversight.
The audit will be discussed Tuesday at the City Council’s Audit Committee meeting. The audit can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2szCIXB. (It’s the sixth item on the meeting agenda.) The meeting starts at 11 a.m. in room 2005 on the second floor of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. and is open to the public.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316