Sept. 18, 2019

Jackson County Prosecutor releases promised audit by independent CPA firm of COMBAT financial practices 

In September 2018, a Jackson County judge ruled that the Jackson County Legislature could legally move oversight of the anti-crime program known as COMBAT from the Jackson County Executive to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who immediately called for an independent audit of the program.

Today, Baker’s office is releasing the audit results. BKD, a Kansas City CPA firm, found a number of concerning financial issues from the time before the Prosecutor’s Office assumed oversight of COMBAT. Among the financial concerns highlighted in the BKD audit:

  • Jackson County’s Finance Department regularly under-budgeted COMBAT revenues, creating reserve or surplus funds that were used by other county departments, rather than COMBAT. These surplus funds were expended often without approval from COMBAT administration or the County Legislature. Of $1.28 million in COMBAT reserves funds in 2017, only $131,946 was spent on COMBAT anti-drug and anti-violence programs.

  • More than $2.2 million in other money was spent between 2016 and 2018 on county jail doors, even though no one in COMBAT management knew COMBAT funds were being used to pay for the doors. Those funds went to the county’s Corrections Department in addition to the department’s guaranteed allocation of COMBAT funds under a funding formula passed by the Legislature in 1995. Similar diversions were found with construction spending for Constructing Futures and renovations of county facilities. Auditors often found no evidence of approval by the County Legislature.

  • While the COMBAT administration didn’t have enough staff to visit agencies it funded, many county employees were paid a portion of their salary or benefits, including car and phone allowances, from COMBAT funds. Their positions or duties appeared to have little to do with COMBAT. These employees included members of the County Executive’s Department and the Legislative Auditor office. BKD requested information on 60 county employees, but County finance officials would only supply BKD with information on 10 employees. 

“It’s clear, and it’s disturbing, that COMBAT revenues were too often spent on purposes that are not in alignment with the mission of COMBAT,” said Prosecutor Baker. “We need to go back to those days when COMBAT’s mission was focused by (Prosecutors) Riederer and McCaskill to support innovative programming that tackled crime and improved neighborhoods.”

“Most of the time, COMBAT’s management was not told about how the anti-crime tax dollars were being spent,” she added. “That will change.”

45% Decrease In Salaries Paid With COMBA Funds
Since Prosecutor’s Office Assume Control

The audit noted that county salaries paid with COMBAT funds, since the Prosecutor’s Office assumed control, have decreased 45 percent; employee benefits paid with COMBAT funds have decreased 35 percent.

Baker has asked the county Legislature to conduct hearings that will track progress on implementing BKD’s recommendations. 

A few recommendations are in line with steps COMBAT has already begun taking prior to BKD’s report. COMBAT is currently seeking to hire its own financial professional, rather than relying on the county Finance Department. It’s also hiring three program monitors to conduct on-site visits at agencies receiving COMBAT funding. 

Recommendation To Update Funding Formula
County Legislature Last Approved In 1995

BKD also recommended that COMBAT’s funding formula, last approved by the Legislature in 1995, be updated. All agencies receiving COMBAT funds based on that formula should be required to detail how the money will be spent, BKD recommended.

Baker said she would have liked to have had these audit results as soon as the Legislature moved COMBAT under her direction. But legal challenges from the County Executive’s Office made that impossible. It’s unclear how much was spent by the County Executive on these legal challenges, but the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office estimates upward of $200,000 was spent on legal fees related to the Executive’s challenges. 

State Auditor’s Office Also
Currently Conducting An Audit

BKD began its forensic audit this spring. It looked at four years, 2014 to 2018. The Missouri State Auditor’s Office, in addition, is currently conducting an audit of COMBAT.

In 1989, voters approved COMBAT, which operates on revenues from a quarter-cent sales tax in Jackson County. In 2009, voters expanded COMBAT’s initial anti-drug mandate to include violence prevention. COMBAT was last renewed in November 2016. In 2018, voters approved moving oversight of COMBAT from the County Executive’s Office back to the Prosecutor’s Office.