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2/7/2013 1:14:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Audit finds issues with city EMS billing

Jennifer Marshall Best
Herald Staff Writer

BRIDGEPORT - Ambulance billing write-offs of $121,726 popped up during a routine state accountability audit of the city of Bridgeport, according to a report released last week by the Washington State Auditor's Office.

The write-offs were made by former city administrator Jean Hardie before her retirement in December 2011, done without council approval, the report states. The write-offs spanned from 2005 to 2010.

"Due to a lack of documentation we could not determine if the write-offs were appropriate," the report states.

The city received about $447 in ambulance revenues in 2011 and $8.828 in 2012, according to Finance Director Lisa Stark, who worked with Hardie.

"The write-offs were done without my knowledge and there was no adjustment to the budget to accommodate for them," Stark wrote in an e-mail.

Those amounts don't include the $3 monthly fee tacked on to residents' utility bills, which funds the maintenance and replacement of ambulances.

The council has in the past discussed the possibility of discontinuing the fee once ambulance revenues pick up.

In early 2012, the city contracted with EMS Billing Services to take charge of billing, and Mayor Marilynn Lynn attributes the rise in revenues to the company's collections efforts.

Lynn, who wasn't mayor during the time frame addressed in the audit, said she believes the problem stemmed from the complexity of the billing process, especially "given the limited staff that we have and that they were already doing so many things."

When the city attempted to train its new deputy clerk, Karen Brown, to do billing, "it became apparent that for such a small town it would be difficult to keep track of all the codes and everything involved in ambulance billing," Lynn said.

"There was never any suspicion or indication that there was ever any sort of fraud or illegality or any of those issues," Lynn said of the city's Jan. 15 exit interview with the auditor's office. "It was addressed to council more than once in the exit interview that these are issues that can happen quite frequently, especially with a limited staff."

A lack of adequate monitoring of budget adjustments for ambulance and utility billing in 2010 and 2011 was also a problem, according to the auditor's office.

Billing, as well as account adjustments and receipting payments, all fell under the duties of the city administrator.

The auditors looked into two utility adjustments made by Hardie totaling $38,930 - one in 2010, the other in 2011.

"The City did not have documentation to support the adjustments other than posted journal entries with handwritten notes. We also noted there was no independent review of the adjustments to determine they were reasonable," the report states.

Lynn said the city was made aware during the process that "there were some issues regarding documentation and lack of segregation of duties," she said.

"Even before we got the final audit, we had already put controls in place so that there wasn't this lack of segregation of duties," she said. "We were already cross-checking and there is more than one set of eyes on each adjustment."

The city is now is using a report courtesy of Vision Municipal Solutions, which provides accounting software, to track adjustments.

After the mayor and financial director review adjustments, the council reviews a list once a month if any were made, Lynn said.

The audit report notes that council members didn't know about the billing write-offs until after Hardie's retirement.

"I think part of that reason was that there was not the awareness of council that they were indeed responsible for making sure that there were controls in place, and so it was something that was not ever brought in front of the council," Lynn said.

Bridgeport is audited by the state every two years. The auditor's office noted that the city had no findings in its previous four audits.

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