- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Millions of dollars collected each year to run the Iowa’s enhanced 911 system needs to be better managed, Iowa’s auditor said after an audit released Tuesday found many counties either underreported or overreported costs - some by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The audit doesn’t conclude money was misspent, but reveals significant weaknesses in the tracking of more than $120 million spent each year to run E911. It concludes part of the problem is in the way the system, which provides 24-hour emergency response dispatchers in the state’s 99 counties, is funded and tracked.

Everyone in Iowa with a telephone pays a $1 surcharge on their bill each month to help fund the system. The surcharges pay about a fourth of the cost of operating E911 systems in the state while several other funding sources - including city and county tax money - pay the rest, said John Benson, the legislative liaison for the emergency management agency, which has oversight responsibilities for the E911 system.

He said the Legislature in 2013 changed the law requiring a collection of data for all costs and expenses related to the operation of the emergency calling systems and details of the extent to which those expenses are covered by the phone surcharges. It required a state audit report to be filed with the Legislature by March 1 covering 2013 and 2014.

“This is the first time gathering costs like this has been done not only in the state of Iowa but across the country,” Benson said. “You’ve got 99 counties essentially with 99 different ways of looking at their costs and revenues and this is kind of getting them onto common ground.”

He said many of the auditor’s recommendations for training county employees on how to better track expenses has been done and will continue. Other recommendations on how to change the expense reporting form and document expenditures and receipts also have been completed with help from the auditor’s office.

“Now that we are involved we’re confident it will be more consistent from this point forward in future audits,” Iowa Auditor Mary Mosiman said.

The audit shows E911 systems spent $122.6 million in 2013 and $124.5 million in 2014. About 57 percent of the money went to pay administrative costs and personnel. Radio systems were the second-highest expense.

Auditors checked 16 of the E911 dispatch centers reporting documents for 2013 and found inconsistencies ranging from one county that underreported costs by an estimated $1 million and another that overreported by more than $334,000. For 2014, auditors found differences ranging from $316,000 in underreported costs to more than $441,000 overreported.

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