April 20, 2005 St. John's Safety Zone came under criticism in an audit dated Monday by the V.I. Inspector General's office.
"It was a record keeping issue," Steven van Beverhoudt, inspector general, said Wednesday.
Iris Kern, Safety Zone director, agreed. "We welcomed the audit," she said.
Van Beverhoudt said records just didn't exist for the older grants examined by auditors, but record keeping improved with the newer grants. He said the Safety Zone hired an office manager, which helped considerably.
"When we had all volunteers, we couldn't do anything in a timely fashion," Kern said.
The audit was requested by the Law Enforcement Planning Commission, which channels Victims of Crime Act grants to the Safety Zone. The federal grants are given to state and territorial agencies so they can help crime victims.
The audit covered three VOCA grants totaling $214,959. One, for $95,059, covered all of 1998. The second, for $49,900, ran from Nov. 30, 2000 to Sept. 30, 2001. The last grant ran from Oct. 1, 2002 to Sept. 30, 2003. It was for $70,000.
The audit found that the Safety Zone did not always comply with the terms of the grant agreement when submitting claims for reimbursements. For one grant, the Safety Zone failed to supply supporting documentation.
The audit noted that some monthly reports were not filed on time and did not adequately support the amounts that were claimed.
It indicated the Safety Zone did not always respond timely to requests made by LEPC monitors. However, the audit noted that the Safety Zone had improved in this area.
The audit noted LEPC monitored Safety Zone's use of the grants through reports submitted to LEPC by the Safety Zone. Instead, the Inspector General's office urged LEPC to monitor the Safety Zone's operations on site to provide closer scrutiny of the center's operations, to provide technical assistance and to help resolve problems and issues as they arise.
Kern said that although the audit shows the Safety Zone has improved when it comes to record keeping, the agency is still waiting for LEPC to forward two grants due November 2004. She said one was for $80,000 and another one was for $57,000.
She said that after LEPC turned down the Safety Zone's request for the money, the Safety Zone successfully appealed the decision.
"It still hasn't come," she said.
Meridith Nielsen, LEPC acting director, did not return two phone calls requesting comment.
Kern said it appears that a personality conflict between herself and a member of the LEPC staff has led to problems in getting the grants.
She said on average, the Safety Zone serves 200 clients a year.
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