Audit finds Perry County needs to do better job seeking bids for purchases

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- A report from Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee's office warns that Perry County is in poor fiscal health and needs to do a better job of seeking competitive bids for major purchases for road work and feeding prisoners.

The report, issued Wednesday, also questions the Perry County Commission's practices for closing meetings. In some instances, auditors wrote, closed meeting minutes didn't have enough information to show that the commissioners' discussion could legally be held in private. The audit covers the two years ending Dec. 31, 2009.

In response, the three county commissioners said in a joint interview that Montee's audit points out several areas for improvement and agreed that they must review their practices so decisions are more transparent to the public.

The county's financial condition has deteriorated in four of the last five years as the county spent more than it received in general fund receipts, auditors said. On Dec. 31, 2005, the county general fund had an unrestricted balance of $762,021. By Dec. 31, 2009, the reserves stood at $49,129.

A major reason for the decline, the auditors said, was a loss of funds for housing federal prisoners. In 2006, the county took in $210,000 for that service but did not receive any money in 2008 or 2009.

A rebound in sales tax receipts will help, said Presiding Commissioner Carl Lueckel Jr. Sales taxes were budgeted for no increase but have actually shown growth of about 2.5 percent so far this year, he said.

The audit cites four areas spending on contracts that were not put out for competitive bidding. And county records don't document why the commission decided to award contracts for almost $700,000 in purchases to companies determined to be the sole source for a product or service.

For example, the county spent $231,980 for Fischer Brothers Excavating Co. to blast and crush rock at the county-owned quarry. Associate Commissioner Patrick Heaps said that after investigating other prices, Fischer Brothers as an area company was the best for the job.

"We contacted one other person, and outside contractors couldn't even come close to Fischer," Heaps said.

The county spent $245,583 on fuel for the Road and Bridge Department through a contract with CO-OP Service Center Inc. The contract was renewed with CO-OP, Lueckel said, after fuel prices were compared between that provider and MFA.

Another example cited was the $195,618 spent feeding prisoners in the Perry County Jail. That contract, with Consolidated Management Co., was the best deal because the company will prepare the food at the jail rather than delivering prepared meals, Associate Commissioner Jim Sutterer said.

No local company was willing to bid on the contract, Sutterer said, and Consolidated voluntarily cut its price per meal to keep the contract.

In citing a lack of documentation for the contracts, auditors were looking for written reports on which other businesses were contacted to determine interest in providing services, reports that the audit said could not be found.

Commissioners said they accept the criticisms in the audit. "Over the next year, we are going to stress a lot of these things," Sutterer said. "There are some things we may have overlooked. We are going to correct the things she wants us to correct."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Perryville, Mo.

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