Move to require advertising for parish audits fails

An ordinance that would have required the St. Mary Parish Council and the boards and commissions under its jurisdiction to advertise for bids for auditing services failed to pass after a lengthy debate Wednesday.
The council heard from three representatives of two auditing firms in the parish who all said they were opposed to the ordinance introduced by Councilman Tim Tregle of Morgan City.
Reasons for the opposition were numerous and included one offered by Guy Pitts of the Pitts and Matte accounting firm that stipulated the ordinance would not meet all requirements in the federal government’s Single Audit Act that applies to entities that receive more than $500,000 in federal grant funds. Pitts and Matte has been the sole auditor for the parish council for many years.
Tregle, who noted that a similar ordinance was enacted when he was last on the council during the 1996-1999 election term, said his primary motivation for doing so again was to foster competitive prices. That ordinance was repealed during the following election term, according to Chief Administrative Officer Henry “Bo” LaGrange.
Tregle added that when the ordinance was in place, Pitt and Matte won the contract with the lowest bid and prices for their services subsequently dropped.
In a comparison provided by Tregle of what three other parishes of similar population sizes pay for auditing services, Pitt said it was a case of comparing apples to oranges. In those instances, he said, St. Mary has twice as many assets in one case; 40-plus other entities under its jurisdiction as compared to one in another; and 20 bonds of indebtedness valued at $40 million as compared to one bond valued at $3 million in the final comparison.
Gerald Thibodeaux of the Kolder, Champagne, Slaven and Co. accounting firm said he felt that the ordinance implies that public accountants need to be monitored. He added “it would be easier to swallow” if it applied to professional services across the board.
“By pointing us out it’s as if we’re doing something improper,” he said.
He noted that requiring a bid process would interrupt the relationship the accounting firms have established with the government entities over the years. He added that 20 years ago there were some 10-12 accounting firms and now there are just three — his firm, Pitts and Matte and Darnall, Sikes, Gordes and Frederick.
“People have gotten out of the profession because the standards have become so expansive,” he said.
Alan Taylor, also of Kolder, Slaven, said he agreed with Thibodeaux that the profession seems to be singled out.
“I don’t know if you’re going to achieve a cost-savings that you’re hoping to achieve,” he said. He added that the firms do not bill for the calls it gets regularly from the entities to answer questions. “That’s part of the relationship that we have with those entities,” he said. “I can’t say that that entity from the outside … they may not be quite as accommodating.”
Councilman Kevin Voisin of Morgan City said he feared the bid process would allow firms from outside the parish to come in instead of keeping funds in the parish.
The motion to adopt the ordinance failed 2-7-2 with Tregle and Councilman David Hanagriff of Centerville voting for and Councilmen Lionel Metz, Glen Hidalgo, Ken Singleton, Sterling Fryou, Albert Foulcard, Voisin and Steve Bierhorst voting against. Councilmen Logan Fromenthal and Charles Middleton were absent. In making the second to the motion, Hanagriff said he agreed with Tregle that the ordinance would spur competition but added that he felt the bid process should apply to all professional services.
Prior to the vote, Hidalgo attempted to amend the motion to change the requirement from bid advertising to request for proposals, but did so before the motion was seconded.
In other business the council:
—Introduced ordinances on a zoning change at 1453 and 1473 Siracusa Road, Siracusa, from a conservation zone to heavy industrial and a specific use permit at 24311 and 24351 Levee Road, Charenton, for a 21-lot recreational vehicle park.
—Selected Bierhorst as the chairman of the council for 2014 and Voisin as vice chair.
—Passed resolutions on a $425,000 bond issue by Recreation District 3; and endorsement of participation in the Quality Jobs Program COMAR Marine LLC and in the Enterprise Zone Program by LAPCO Manufacturing Inc.
—Heard from Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, on continuing efforts in conjunction with Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, to see fruition of local projects.
—Heard from Verdunville resident Mark Bogan who urged the council to notify the Congressional delegation of the need to provide all veterans regardless of income level with medical care.

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Morgan City Daily Review
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