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By Eric Heinz

On Tuesday, July 25, the South Orange County Wastewater Authority (SOCWA) executive committee decided to have the agency’s board of directors consider what money it will spend to address an audit approved by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

The audit was brought forth by state Sen. Patricia Bates and Assemblyman Bill Brough after various questions had been raised regarding the agency’s accounting and allocation of costs to projects.

South Coast Water District, which serves Dana Point, is a member of SOCWA and utilizes its services for wastewater.

“SOCWA staff has been analyzing what may be in the audit and have had discussions with the state auditor’s office and organizations that have gone through similar processes, and they have discussed what our share of the costs will be,” said Steve Greyshock, a spokesperson for SOCWA. “We reviewed the cost and what it will be to work with the state, and SOCWA believes that to embrace the audit it has to be fully responsive and collaborative.”

Greyshock said it will take about $282,000 and 2,200 hours of staff time between the California State Auditor and SOCWA staff to complete the audit. A total of about $340,000 is expected to be expended by SOCWA on the entire effort, but this number has been disputed.

Moulton Niguel Water District (MNWD) has been the driving force behind the audit, after it claimed SOCWA had at least $1 million in unaccounted funds. They also claimed there has not been consistent monthly financial reporting, missing records and late audit filings. MNWD officials said they want more transparency in the processes of SOCWA in order to understand what they are paying for.

MNWD was sued in May by SOCWA regarding payments of $927,000 owed to the association related to capital improvement projects to the Coastal Treatment Plant.

Joon Lopez, the general manager of MNWD, said the district attempted to pay the amount, under protest, but that it wasn’t accepted by SOCWA.

“Two weeks later they filed the lawsuit for the exact amount we offered to pay under protest,” said Lopez. “We tried to get through this reasonably, but it’s unfortunate they sued.”

MNWD also disputes the amount of money SOCWA is spending on the audit.

The board of directors of SOCWA is expected to take up the issue at its next regularly scheduled meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 3. The location of the meeting is 34156 Del Obispo St. in Dana Point. The audit is expected to take four months to complete, according to the latest estimate from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

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