As an elected official, my responsibility first and foremost is to have positive stewardship over the taxpayer dollars. —Newly-elected Mayor Christopher Pengra
EAGLE MOUNTAIN — A report from the Utah state auditor highlights problems in Eagle Mountain related to travel expenses, receipts and lax scrutiny of employee time cards.
The audit, which was released Monday, does say the Utah County city complied with state law in transferring money from its natural gas and electricity proceeds to cover worker hours related to utility issues.
“I’m grateful that the process was seen through to the end and at the conclusion the main point of contention that was a concern for many residents — being that we were using utility funds for other purposes improperly — we were vindicated, I guess, in that sense,” newly-elected Mayor Christopher Pengra said.
Residents blasted the city a year ago when their utility bills soared, and the ordeal prompted a town hall meeting with the mayor, City Council and hundreds of residents.
City officials have said the expensive bills were due to extreme cold last winter, an accidentally long billing cycle that was due to an equipment failure, and because of tens of millions of dollars in outstanding loans related to utility infrastructure.
“There were multiple issues that resulted in high utility rates,” Pengra said.
Former Mayor Heather Jackson also expressed relief over the report.
“Just glad it’s finally done and it showed that the utilities are all in order and we’re doing things properly at the city,” she said.
Not everybody was instantly satisfied by the findings of the audit related to utilities.
“I have a hard time believing that, honestly,” resident Lisa Kennington said Monday. She said her bill increased by 50 percent at the height of the difficulties last year.
“There’s just too much speculation that I think hasn’t been looked into well enough,” she said.
The audit did find troubles in other areas.
According to the report, $6,049 in travel costs from 2011 to 2013 may have been “improper or unnecessary.” The report said those costs included $379 in travel expenses to multiple rodeo events for Jackson's husband.
“The city represented that the payments were made because the spouse was a member of the city’s informal rodeo committee,” the report states. “However, not all members of the informal rodeo committee attended the convention. As such, we question the merit and appearance of this justification given the relationship to the former mayor. The city should only pay costs for people on official city business and not those of companions choosing to travel with them.”
Jackson said her husband was actively involved in the committee and provided “a lot of good service” to the city.
“I feel like he did a lot of good things for that process and helping the rodeo to be a success,” she said. “Going to the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) convention was critical to helping the city put on an excellent rodeo. And it became an award winning rodeo after we attended our first PRCA convention.”
Additionally, the report found “inadequate or no supporting documentation” for 38 of 59 payments auditors checked that were connected to event-related travel.
It also found lax scrutiny of time card approvals, with three of 13 that were checked lacking an employee signature and four failing to include a supervisor signature — signatures that the city requires.
Jackson said the time card approvals were not her responsibility at the time of the audit.
The report also highlights issues with “insignificant” property valuations and suggested county Tourism, Resort, Cultural and Convention tax funds may have been misused when city officials purchased a small preliminary model instead of a life-size Pony Express rider statue.
Pengra said several of the issues had already been addressed and others are being addressed.
“As an elected official, my responsibility first and foremost is to have positive stewardship over the taxpayer dollars,” Pengra said. “Everyone followed the policies and procedures that were in place, but we simply need to increase that and exercise better judgment as an elected official to make sure that I’m not moving in that direction where we’re placing ourselves in a situation where we’re not being as good of stewards as we ought to be.”