Littleton City Council Special Meeting – 14 October 2008

Special Meeting

October 14, 2008

 

There were two items on the agenda – the 2007 Audit and the South Platte Park Management Plan.  Clark added two items to the agenda – a discussion on the Littleton Immigrant Initiative and the 2008 BIAAC Report.

 

2007 Audit Report

Every year the City is required to have their books audited.  Wendy Swanhorst & Co has been performing the audit for the past 5 years – this is their last year as they are limited to 5 years.  After the audit, the auditor provides the Council with a Management Letter pointing out areas in need of improvement.  Swanhorst was in attendance to review their findings with the Council.  Along with her Management Letter was a response from the City Manager.

 

Swanhorst said they have seen significant changes in the accounting for the City in the past five years.  The CAFR is a high level document and Littleton has a good staff – a much deeper staff meaning there are more staff members that know more about the accounting practices of the City as opposed to just one. 

 

Their findings were:

 

Significant Accounting Policies

“No transactions entered into by the City during the year that were both significant and unusual, and for which, under professional standards, we are required to inform you, or transactions for which there is a lack of authoritative guidance or consensus, except as follows.

 

During 2007, the City added infrastructure assets (primarily streets) to its financial statements as required by the accounting standards….totaling almost $14 million.

 

The City also added capital assets contributed by developers in prior years to the Sewer and Storm Drainage Funds, totaling $7.5 million.  This resulted in an adjustment to prior year financial statements.  We recommend the City establish ongoing policies and procedures to properly report these contributed assets in a timely manner in the future.

 

The City has not consistently and methodically contributed to its internal funds.  We recommend that the City develop a funding plan to consistently charge the appropriate funds on an ongoing basis for fleet and insurance needs.  Otherwise, transactions with the internal service funds can distort the City’s financial statements.

 

Significant Audit Adjustments

Management has determined that the effects of the unrecorded misstatements are immaterial, both individually and in the aggregate, to the financial statements taken as a whole.  In our judgment, the adjustments we proposed to the accounting records and to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), and the prior period adjustments identified by management indicate a weakness in internal control that could have a significant effect on the City’s financial reporting process.  The City does not currently possess the expertise to apply the accounting standards in certain situations and prepare the CAFR completely and accurately.  We continue to recommend that City staff seek additional training and education on the accounting standards and preparation of the CAFR.

 

Other Information

Utility Billing System – We understand that the City is implementing a new system in 2008.  In the meantime, we continue to recommend that the City perform monthly reconciliations of the system data to detect and correct errors in a timely manner.

 

Building Permits – Planning Department personnel are allowed to revise building permit information in the system without the approval of a supervisor.  To prevent errors and fraud, the City should investigate systems controls that do not allow revisions to building permit information without the approval of a second person.

 

Bank Reconciliations – The current reconciliation lists several outstanding items originating years ago, to as early as 2002.  We recommend that old outstanding items be researched and cleared in a timely manner.  Certain outstanding checks may be required to be sent to the State under the Great Colorado Giveback.”

 

She concluded by saying that they have seen major and significant changes in the accounting department and the City is in a good position to go forward.

 

South Platte Park Management Plan

Cecily Mui from South Suburban addressed the group.  The last draft of the Management Plan was in 1999 and they started to revise and update the plan in 2006. 

 

Tom Mulvey was interested in the access to the park by the handicapped and disabled.  There are several options available and now motorized wheelchairs have access to the park via a permit system.  A fishing pier and river access for the handicap is coming in the future.

 

Debbie Brinkman asked about the reclamation of the land that was scarred by the Roxborough sewer line.  Cecily said they are very happy with the re-growth.

 

Jose Trujillo said he does not understand why there is a fence around Cooley Lake – it belongs to the public.

 

Cecily it was a policy decision made after public hearings.  The area was closed for a 5 year period to reclaim the area.  At the end of the five year period there was a series of public hearings and it was decided the only public access to Cooley Lake would be with a guide. 

 

Ecologically Cooley Lake is nationally recognized Audubon area for migration and refuge of birds.  If there were a lot of visitors it might change that use.

 

Jose said the fence should come down.

 

Clark said it would have to be a decision by the Council to remove the fence.  He asked Cecily if there was a time in the year that opening Cooley Lake would not interfere with the birds and the migration. 

 

Cecily said fishing at Cooley Lake would degrade the shoreline significantly.  It would require more management and patrolling of the area.

 

Clark said he recognized the potential costs in money but he has not seen what the cost on the wildlife would be if it were open.

 

Mulvey thought the fenced in area provided a breeding ground for the fox and coyotes.  We have three lakes we can’t fish in now.

 

Jim Woods said they needed four council members to agree on a public hearing process.  The staff can’t change the policy and the public hearing would be equivalent to a significant zoning hearing.

 

John Ostermiller thought opening Cooley Lake for part of the year would be a logistical nightmare.  There are no fish in the lake – what’s the big deal.

 

Mulvey said the Department of Wildlife will stock it anytime.

 

Clark suggested South Suburban provide the Council with a memo evaluating access to the area with regard to cost and impact on the wildlife.

 

Dave Lorenz, South Suburban, said they could do that.  They already have research identifying rare plants and rare animals.  It is a rare place and an important commodity to protect and maintain.

 

Cecily said Cooley Lake has more species than the other lakes south of it combined.

 

Ostermiller wanted to vote on this before they sent South Suburban off to do a lot of work.

 

Clark moved that a memo be provided by South Suburban to evaluate opening the lake for part of the year or for a full year.  Jose seconded.

 

Ostermiller said it is a natural park and to open it would destroy what has been worked so hard to make.  It is a national habitat and there is no need to open it up.  People can take tours and sunset canoe trips – there is no need to have the staff do anymore.  It won’t work.

 

Brinkman was not in favor of opening Cooley Lake – it is a great benefit and keeps the delicate balance to have that protected area in the middle of a busy metro area.  It is a complete ecology that serves us in a variety of ways.  It provides a safe place for the animals to get away from us.

 

Clark said he would support the motion to quantify the costs and benefits to keep the lake closed.  It will remind us.  If we have a public hearing we need to know the costs.

 

Vote was 4/3 with Brinkman, Cole and Ostermiller dissenting.

 

Taylor asked if they could go forward and approve the Management Plan and make the Cooley decision later.

 

Ostermiller asked how they could accept a Management Plan that contains a plan they don’t approve.

 

Clark moved to go forward with the Management Plan as it is now with the potential of another public hearing to modify the Cooley plan later.  No second but his motion failed on a 1/6 vote with Clark the only one supporting his motion.

 

Lorenz said they would take this to their Board and they have a lot of the information already available. 

 

Clark asked about the dog park out at Chatfield.  The Park is not happy with all those that park there then walk into the dog park.  The State Park is losing money and the land is degrading.  They are also concerned about the tight corner under the bridge and the safety hazard it creates with the bicycles and dogs on a long leash.

 

Littleton Immigrant Initiative

Woods told the Council that the Immigrant grant money runs out in June of 2009.  They are looking for private money to continue their program.  They have looked into a grant through Arapahoe County but they have to be a 501.C.3 in order to apply for the money.  Would the Council consider filing on their behalf?

 

Brinkman asked what responsibility it would mean for the City and why hasn’t the group applied for the 501.C. 3 status in the past.

 

Woods said they have operated under our umbrella and it is a laborious process to file the application.  They are talking about going under the United Fund umbrella.

 

Brinkman wanted to know what happens if they get the grant for $25,000 but are unable to find the other $50,000. 

 

Charlie Blosten said they could release the $25,000.

 

Brinkman asked if there was a reason why the City has not considered taking over the initiative.

 

Woods said with the budget limitations we aren’t in a position for a new initiative.

 

Brinkman said if they don’t get the money they are likely to come to us and ask for the money – that would put us in an interesting situation.

 

Cole suggested that the group might have their own 501.C.3 status next year.  She moved to have staff prepare the application and the mayor be authorized to sign.  Motion passed 7/0.

 

BIAAC

Clark mentioned the Denver Post article last week that used the BIAAC report for information.  The Council had the sentiment to correct the BIAAC Report but they didn’t and we now have a report that is being used to trash the City. 

 

There are factual errors in the report that should be corrected. 

 

There are assertions in the article indirectly arrived at by the BIAAC report that we are closed for business due to Council decisions and that our lack of support for high density translates to we are closed for business.

 

Clark suggested one possible course of action would be to bring in an auditor to look at the statements made and determine if they are factual. 

 

Woods did not see enough factual analytical work to justify hiring an auditor.  There was a worry nature to the report – we are not in trouble today but….

 

The Denver Post reporter made inferences that Littleton was the oldest community in the metro area but the BIAAC Report said we were one of the oldest.  However the graph in the report only compares Littleton to communities that have a median age less than Littleton.

 

The declining school enrolment got converted into Littleton is not thriving.  What’s the correlation of median age and closing schools?  The correlation didn’t hang together.  It makes a spicy story – The Sunshine Boys makes good ink.

 

Mr. Kirkendall, who was quoted, did spend a lot of money but I can give you 40 examples of like situations.  You can’t go into in-fill areas and not meet with resistance.  It took five years on the Elitch property.

 

The dust-up from WalMart carried over.  We currently have zoning on the books for over 2,000 units.  The Electron property is being developed with 350 units and Nevada Place is on the shelf waiting for pre-sales.  They could start up any time they come in to pay their fees.  It is a lousy economy that has caused the cancellation of the DRC meetings – not a philosophical issue with this council.

 

We need a reality check.  This City is not shut down.

 

Brinkman said it wasn’t juicy and it wasn’t a dust-up.  It was a smear job and she was broken-hearted that someone thought they had to do this to Littleton.  The BIAAC Report should have been corrected when we asked.  The report did not support the opinions with data and the publication has been continually published.  This is the first time I haven’t seen it on the counter in the lobby.  This was a slap to the whole City and unfortunately people read it and accept it.

 

Brinkman’s sister is a Principal in a school in Douglas County who received a call from a frantic Littleton mother who was searching for information about schools because she had to get out of Littleton.  Her call was prompted by the Denver Post article.

 

Woods said he had to plead ignorance as he did not see the factual errors in the report and apologized for not seeing them.  If you want to bring in an auditor and ask for corrections – that is your prerogative.

 

Cole asked what status the auditor’s report would have.

 

Woods said if Council wants a corrected record maybe his idea doesn’t work.

 

Brinkman said there was enough information in the report for a reporter to use as he did.  There are people who have an opinion about those of us who got elected and those that helped get us elected and they don’t like that we got elected.  We can’t do anything about that.  We do the best we can.  Our responsibility is to keep Littleton thriving and how do we move forward.  We are not closed for business – we haven’t turned down anything yet!

 

Clark said he resisted the rewrite of the BIAAC report for a number of reasons.  Regarding the median age – we are not the highest but the chart shows that we are.  The school enrollment numbers are district-wide not Littleton wide.  The application of the numbers is wrong and they don’t make sense.

 

Ostermiller said the writer wrote what he thought he saw and he didn’t know what errors “you” see.  The public education numbers don’t mean anything.  20% of the kids don’t go to neighborhood schools. 

 

Clark said you can’t make a correlation with enrollment numbers and say it reflects the median age of the City or anything that is happening in the City but BIAAC does that.

 

Cole thought a summary on the state of Littleton as Woods sees it – an official response to BIAAC – would give it a different perspective.

 

Woods said he paid more attention to the recommendations in the report and 9 months ago he didn’t know a reporter would cherry pick, get quotes and turn it into an article.  He is “numb to a certain amount of noise.”

 

Cole said the recommendations could have been made without the rest of the report.

 

Phil Cortese told the Council not to let the article deter them from the direction they are going.  People are paying attention to what is happening and what you are doing.  Don’t react to the paper – stay the course.

 

Clark suggested a written assessment be written and included in all future copies of the BIAAC Report.

 

Mulvey thought the City had been hurt by the article.

 

Brinkman agreed with Cortese – we need to start telling the good news story about Littleton.  It has to be an on-going message.

 

Taylor suggested doing nothing.

 

Ostermiller said it has been out for 9-10 months – if we keep making an issue of it it will be kept in the public’s eye.

 

Cole liked Woods’ idea – she saw the value in making observations and including it in the Littleton Report.

 

Ostermiller agreed with Brinkman about telling the good news about Littleton.  We got some press on waiving the fees on solar energy but no press on eliminating the sales tax on such things.

 

Clark said we were the only one in the universe doing that!

 

Woods said there will not be a lot of ribbon cuttings this next year.  As an in-fill City we have our challenges.  When the economy turns we have desirable sites and the developers will come.  They still continue to have an interest in South Park and Hilltop.  We will come out of this in 18 months or so.

 

Brinkman was uncomfortable leaving the BIAAC Report on the City’s website without an attachment.

 

Cortese said a letter from the Mayor would be appropriate.

 

Clark had another issue – the lingering perception that Littleton has underperforming retail which comes from the 2003 Columbine Square study.  The report states our average sales per square foot are $180 and the national average is $200.  The problem with the report is they used total retail sales that are $6 million short of the actual.  When you use the right figures we are above the national average.  He asked Chris Gibbons why the one figure was used in the report and he did not know.  Gibbons asked the group that produced the report and they didn’t remember where they got the number.  We don’t know how we are performing retail-wise in Littleton said Clark.

 

The real question is not do we have underperforming retail but do we have more underperforming retail than our peers.  He thought it might be a good topic for their workshop.

 

Taylor said there was a report for all the shopping centers and Woodlawn was used as the bell weather.  Clark said he has seen lots of reports and we do not know how we are doing as an entire City.  RTD has had an annual sales tax growth of 6.2% each year.  What better way to compare ourselves than to compare to RTD.  Clark looked back at our sales reports and we are 2% above the metro average so how can we have a report in 2002 substantially below the national average.

 

 

 

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