A Buncombe County audit of the Pack Square Conservancy’s books found that internal financial controls are adequate but that the nonprofit overseeing the massive renovation of Asheville’s signature park is operating on a $20 million budget that hasn’t been approved by county commissioners.
County commissioners and Asheville City Council created the conservancy in 2000 to oversee the reworking of Pack Square Park, the area that extends from the front steps of City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse westward to the area surrounding the Vance Monument in the heart of downtown. That agreement requires the conservancy board to submit its budget to the city and county for approval.
The conservancy has seen construction delays and an escalating budget in the years since the project’s inception. The conservancy’s last approved budget of $10.5 million was approved by commissioners in September 2004, according to the October audit by internal county auditor Tim Flora. The construction budget is now just over $20 million.
The conservancy broke ground on the park in 2005, and anticipated that construction would be complete in fall 2006. Today, the expected completion date is fall 2009. The audit found that county commissioners have not agreed to extend the project past Dec. 31, 2006.
Conservancy Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman said Monday that the conservancy has contacted county commissioners to ask for budget approval and approval to extend the project completion date.
The county audit also found:
• That there have been no periodic expenditure statements despite the original agreement’s requirement that the city and county be informed on a regular basis of planned and actual expenditures.
• That there have been no regular quarterly updates provided to commissioners or other county officials.
The conservancy disagrees with the auditor’s findings regarding the reporting requirements, according to Geiselman. The conservancy board included appointees from the city and county, and expected those members to report back to their respective boards, she said. Earlier this year, commissioners passed a resolution stating that board members would not sit on any other board that receives county funding, deeming that a conflict of interest. (Fran Thigpen, director of Buncombe County Child Care Services, is now the county’s representative to the conservancy board.) Geiselman said the conservancy will begin issuing its monthly board packets to the office of County Manager Wanda Green in response to the request for quarterly updates.
As of June 30, the conservancy had $6.7 million in total expenditures, leaving $13.3 million to be spent, according to the audit. The conservancy had $500,000 cash on hand, $3.8 million of federal grant money available and $4.3 million in net pledges receivable, including a $1.15 million commitment from the county. The conservancy needs to raise an additional $4.7 million to meet its capital budget, the audit showed.
Click here to go to the Xpress Files and read the county audit of the Pack Square Conservancy.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor