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It's certainly not fair that if someone doesn't pay their water bill, we shut their water off...yet they're renting our fields...not paying.

Audit finds Watertown parks & rec mismanagement

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Watertown's baseball team nearly left town recently after revelations it owed the city more than $40,000. The Watertown Wizards play in the summer collegiate league, and has produced some professional players. The team hadn't paid for use of city-owned fields for several seasons.

It turns out that was because the city's Parks and Recreation department wasn't collecting its bills. The results of an audit released this week slams the department. Watertown correspondent Joanna Richards has more.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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The audit shows the city's Parks and Recreation Department has many outstanding bills going back at least three years. The audit says bookkeeping procedures are messy – often incomplete and untimely. Checks sit in drawers for months without being cashed. Staff have conflicting ideas of who is responsible for what.

The independent accounting firm Poulsen and Podvin that conducted the audit recommended setting up basic professional office systems and enforcing standard processes for handling billing and collections.

Jeff Graham is the city of Watertown's mayor. He says the report shows an atmosphere of untimeliness and confusion in the Parks and Recreation Department offices.

Mayor: Software arrived in 2007 and was never installed. That's kind of a problematic situation because software is how you're able to accomplish running a complex organization with fewer people, particularly when you're talking about scheduling and it's interrelated to billing, you know, computer software can be a great help. Now if that was sitting around on a shelf for four years, if that's indeed the case, I'd like to know why.

In addition to taking care of the city's parks, the Parks and Recreation Department also manages the ice arena and fairgrounds and the fields where the Watertown Red and Black football team and Watertown Wizards baseball team play.

City Council member Roxanne Burns pushed hard for the audit after the city learned the Wizards owed over $40,000 for field use, concession profits and other items going back as far as 2002. Burns says the city has to move aggressively to collect unpaid bills.

Roxanne: And when I say aggressively I mean that. It's certainly not fair that if someone doesn't pay their water bill, we shut their water off and then we charge them to have it turned back on, but yet we have people renting our fields down there, renting our arena, and they're not paying for a year or two years, so letting the folks know that the expectations are there that the payments will be made and if they're not then they don't get to use the field.

A representative of the accounting firm is set to meet with the city June 1.

For North Country Public Radio/WRVO, I’m Joanna Richards in Watertown.

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