- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) - Ohio’s auditor is planning a special study of the finances of Cincinnati’s sewer district after a newspaper’s report that it spent hundreds of millions of public dollars with little or no oversight at a time when residents’ sewer rates have risen steadily.

The special audit will investigate possible fraud, theft or misappropriation of funds and try to quantify the extent. It also will study consulting contracts.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Thursday that the Metropolitan Sewer District spent some $680 million over a decade, and that a former city manager’s memo had eliminated a critical checks-and-balances system.

“The really alarming thing was the lack of controls,” Auditor Dave Yost told The Enquirer (https://cin.ci/1PEKPXI ). “The fact that you had a single person making decisions without checks - that is not the way it is supposed to work.”

The 2007 city memo left the district and its former director, Tony Parrott, with nearly total control over decisions related to a $3 billion, court-ordered overhaul of Hamilton County’s sewers, the newspaper reported. The sewer district awarded million-dollar projects to contractors without seeking competitive bids, hired consultants for work that wasn’t clearly defined and paid invoices containing vague language about work that was supposedly completed, the Enquirer reported.

Parrott, now director of Louisville’s sewer district, said there sufficient safeguards. The authority he had to make decisions was necessary to keep projects moving along quickly and avoid possible fines for missing court-ordered deadlines.

The current Cincinnati city manager, Harry Black, said he is changing the rules to better control sewer district spending and now reviews every significant purchase in the district and the city’s other departments.

Officials said the average sewer bill has more than doubled since 2006, from $101 a quarter to $211.

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Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, https://www.enquirer.com

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