Agency’s $32M error blamed on sloppy accounting


DENVER | Sloppy accounting and staff turnover caused a $32.4 million miscalculation at Colorado’s Division of Wildlife, according to a state audit presented to lawmakers Monday.

The audit detailed the missteps that caused the new merged Division of Parks and Wildlife to overspend its reserve balance between 2007 and 2011. The problem, lawmakers were told, was caused by reporting errors that led agency officials to believe they had far more money to spend than they really did. As a result, the Wildlife Cash Fund Reserve dipped from about $37 million in 2007 to about $6 million by 2011.

“In the most basic terms, the money was spent but wasn’t deducted from the checkbook,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King, who called the error “simply inconceivable.”

Finding out about the screw-up last year was “one of the most disconcerting phone calls I’ve ever received,” King told the Legislative Audit Committee.

The depleted reserve has forced the Department of Natural Resources to delay some projects, including a shooting range in Denver and an office in Gunnison, King said. Department officials repeatedly reminded lawmakers that money was overspent, but not misspent.

However, lawmakers were steamed about the mistake and demanded to know how the agency planned to prevent another slip. King and other officials accepted the entirety of the auditors’ suggestions — a 27-page report recommending technical accounting corrections — but lawmakers from both parties seemed unsatisfied that the mistake won’t happen again.

Lawmakers seemed especially troubled by the audit’s finding that staff turnover was in part to blame for accounting mistakes. Democratic Rep. Angela Williams pointed out that staff turnover affects any large organization or business and must be accounted for.

“Who’s being held accountable in your department for this gross error?” she asked. King pointed out that there is a new chief financial officer but declined to elaborate on staff disciplinary procedures.

Another troubling sign in the audit report was something the agency isn’t responsible for — declining numbers of hunters and fishermen. Money from hunting and fishing licenses makes up the majority of the division’s funding, but declining participation led to a 6 percent drop from licenses and permits, from $81 million in 2007 to $76 million in 2011.

Democratic Sen. Lois Tochtrop urged the agency to move on with a revised accounting scheme and focus on getting young people interested in the outdoors, not video games.

“Get ’em away from their Game Boys or whatever they call them,” Tochtrop said.