State officials on Friday asked for an audit of the department, which revealed last week it failed to subtract spending on land and water acquisitions and other expenses from 2006 to 2007 and 2009 to 2010. The misstep could jeopardize planned DOW projects because the agency has been under the impression it had more money than it actually did.
The scrutiny over the expenses comes as the Division of Wildlife merges with State Parks, a move intended to save the state some $3 million to $4 million a year. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested the merger and lawmakers approved it this year. The departments became the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife this month.
"I think the question is would legislators have supported a merger had they known about how the accounting was in wildlife, because we had all believed that wildlife was fiscally sound while parks was struggling financially to stay open," said Rep. Sal Pace, the Democratic leader in the House. Pace requested the audit, along with Democratic Reps. Joe Miklosi and Deb Garner, who sit on the state's Legislative Audit Committee.
The request asks auditors to investigate DOW's accounting practices and whether "controls exist that are consistent with all state laws."
The Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the unified agencies, and the governor's office also sent a joint letter to the committee asking for an audit. It cites three areas for the auditors to examine: Is $32.4 million the correct amount the department thought it had in its cash reserve? Was the agency's spending in compliance with the law? And what should the state do so that such an error doesn't happen again?
DNR Executive Director Mike King said the parks department never intended to tap into funds from wildlife and that the accounting errors don't change the cost-saving mission of the measure.
"Those overall objectives don't change," he said.
Still, he acknowledged the public may have negative perceptions about the handling of money at the wildlife agency and he wants to address that.
"I think that is the essence for why we're moving with the request of an audit ourselves," he said.
Pace said an audit can be approved as soon as next month and that having two requests can help expedite the process. Once approved, an audit can take about a year to complete, Pace said.
He said it appears DOW's financial oversight appears to be a problem that was compounded for years.
"Which raises serious questions about whether there were systemic accounting problems in the division," he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)