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THE INVESTIGATORS: Audit finds EBR city-parish had no proof to justify cost of engineering firm chosen to design stormwater master plan

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 10:55 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2021 at 6:31 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Auditors with the Louisiana Legislative Auditors Office found the East Baton Rouge city-parish could not provide adequate proof to justify the cost of the contract for the engineering firm chosen to design the stormwater master plan.

“That’s what makes drainage money really tough is trying to comply with all the different regulations once you get involved with it, including Corps of Engineers, FEMA, EPA etc. It goes on and on and on,” said Darryl Gissel, Chief Administrative Officer with EBR.

The goal of the stormwater master plan is to determine which flood prevention projects to prioritize and to help predict future rain events across the Capital area based on collected data from previous storms. The $15 million contract was awarded to local engineering firm HNTB back in September 2017 and was supposed to be funded through a federal grant.

As part of the process, the city-parish was supposed to ensure that the cost of the contract was fair and reasonable. Without an established process for reviewing those contracts to ensure that they are fair and reasonable, such contract costs could become ineligible for reimbursement under federal awards. Auditors determined the process carried out by the EBR city-parish needed work and recommended that officials establish a formal and written process for determining the fairness and reasonableness of contracts prior to awarding them.

“The way it works is we actually fund it first and then we get reimbursement so it could create a delay in our reimbursement process,” said Gissel.

Gissel says luckily they jumped on the issue right away and were able to make sure their process was air tight.

“We actually brought in a group to examine our costs and what we did to negotiate that and we qualified. It was just an extra step that we have to go through,” he added. “When it comes to drainage money, we always welcome the federal money. We need it. We don’t sit on millions and millions of dollars to do these projects so they’re critical but again, there are lots of requirements when we move that money.”

A city-parish spokesman tells WAFB they have corrected the issue. In response to the audit findings, the city-parish released the following statement:

Accounting firm P&N was also involved in the audit process and compiled this as part of a comprehensive look at the city-parish for the entire year of 2020.

You can look at the audit here: https://app.lla.state.la.us/publicreports.nsf/0/99f2b61be275649c8625872d006db0ba/$file/000246da.pdf?openelement&.7773098

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