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AUDIT ISN’T A WORRY FOR WATER DISTRICT

SHARE AUDIT ISN’T A WORRY FOR WATER DISTRICT

A long-awaited audit of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District was to be released Thursday, but officials are expected to say they already have rectified problems likely to surface in the report.

The district hired accounting firms and other consultants to change antiquated financial, personnel and management policies and procedures. The district also reportedly tightened its travel policies, responding to criticism that board members were flying first class on public money.Responsible for delivering Central Utah Project water to 12 Utah counties, the district headed off much of the controversy surrounding the examination by making changes while legislative auditors pored over books and interviewed agency officials for several months.

Allegations of financial mismanagement, an ineffective board of directors and undefined policies and procedures, were included in an earlier legislative audit of the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District.

Legislative Auditor General Wayne Welsh declined to make any comparisons between the two audits. But he said the Central Utah audit went smoothly and the district cooperated and was responsive to discussions about problems.

"It (the audit) was worthwhile and an area that needed to be looked at," Welsh said.

Neither the Central Utah District nor the state would elaborate on the audit's conclusions before its release to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee. But, an expected response to any questions raised by the probe could be: "We're taking care of that right now."

Rep. Don LeBaron, R-Alpine, requested the audit in February because of concerns that the district had strayed from its original mission and wasn't representing constituents who were paying its bills.

"I got interested because of the district's refusal to consider a problem with an open canal in Pleasant Grove," LeBaron said. "I wanted to clear the air over questions concerning people being taxed for a system they will likely get nothing out of."

A portion of property tax revenues in the 12-county district will contribute an estimated $11.8 million of the district's $13.8 million in revenues next year.

Exactly how that money should be used has become muddled over the last 25 years or more. The district has evolved from the entity charged with managing and repaying completed CUP facilities to a funding source for almost anything to do with water in the district.

"Sometimes we act like a bank," said one director recently, following a debate on whether the district should help finance a state cloud-seeding program.

LeRoy Hooton Jr., a director and chairman of the district's finance committee, said the legislative audit should give the district some direction to defining a purpose and policy in dealing with funding requests.