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November 7, 2008

DiNapoli Audit: Lax Oversight of Credit Card Purchases And Questionable Spending at Columbia-Greene Community College

Columbia-Greene Community College did not adequately document $117,407 in purchases made on college credit cards and the college’s association paid $5,800 in questionable expenses that included tickets to political and charitable events, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“College credit cards should be used sparingly and the charges should be well documented,” DiNapoli said. “There were inadequate checks and balances at Columbia-Greene Community College that allowed the college to pay more than $100,000 for charges that were not properly documented. The supporting documentation was so inadequate that auditors could not determine if these charges were valid and appropriate. In these tough fiscal times, the college needs to closely watch every dime that it spends.”

DiNapoli’s audit, covering the period September 2005 to June 2007, found significant weaknesses in the college’s internal controls over credit cards, purchasing and claims auditing.

Auditors reviewed $130,718 in purchases made with college credit cards and found 95 percent, or $117,407, of these purchases lacked adequate documentation. In addition, the audit found more than $2,100 in questionable purchases, which included:

  • more than $775 spent by the dean of students for meal purchases;
  • $964 charged by the college’s president for meals at the Culinary Institute of America; and
  • $347 spent on four lunch transactions at a diner in Hudson.

Auditors also found $5,800 in questionable expenses paid for by the Columbia-Greene Community College Association, which is a not-for-profit corporation formed by the college to provide auxiliary services and activities to students, staff and faculty of the college. The questionable expenses included tickets for the president and other college officials to attend dinners that were political in nature as well as retirement dinners, golf tournaments and charitable events. The association also reimbursed the college for the $964 the president charged at the Culinary Institute of America.

In addition, DiNapoli’s audit found the college did not seek competitive bids for $80,282 in purchases as required by General Municipal Law. The college also did not comply with its own policies by failing to seek price comparisons for $50,568 in purchases.

Auditors also determined claims auditing duties were not adequately segregated among employees to prevent errors or misuse of funds. Also, the college routinely approved and paid claims that lacked documentation and proper approvals.

Auditors also found a college board member had a prohibited conflict of interest in a contract that the college had with a company the board member partly owned. Two other board members failed to publicly disclose their interests in two contracts with the college.

In a review of the college’s bursar’s office, auditors found the office did not properly segregate financial duties among employees and failed to use built-in safeguards in its accounting software. These weaknesses placed the college at risk for increased errors and irregularities. The college also did not adequately monitor collection agencies’ pursuit of delinquent accounts and may not be collecting all tuition that is owed to the college.

The audit contains 16 recommendations for college officials, including to:

  • adopt a comprehensive policy for credit card use and ensure each transaction has adequate documentation;
  • review questionable credit card transactions and seek reimbursement for any unauthorized purchases;
  • properly document and authorize purchases;
  • ensure that written and verbal quotes are routinely sought for purchases and properly bid purchases that are more than $10,000 as required by law;
  • address board members’ conflicts of interest;
  • properly segregate financial duties in the bursar’s office; and
  • ensure that money spent is in support of the college and is in compliance with the college’s policies and spending guidelines.

The college generally agreed with the audit’s recommendations and committed to take corrective action. The college’s full response is included in the audit.

Click here for a copy of the audit.To view the audit.


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