Council Gabriel Beadle
CPAs lash out at proposed RFPs ordinance
An ordinance that would require all St. Mary Parish Council and other parish bodies to send requests for proposals for accounting services drew heavy criticism from CPA firms Wednesday.
Councilman Gabriel Beadle, who moved the ordinance through the parish charter’s introduction and adoption process, tabled it.
Tim Matte, Pitts & Matte CPAs, said during an hour-and-a-half public hearing that he came to defend his firm’s profession.
Matte said this wasn’t the first time similar ordinances were considered, including one about a year ago that included all professional services, but was pared to only include accounting services.
“I’m here today to ask for fairness,” he said. “To treat all professionals, across the board, in a fair and similar manner. To single out CPAs is just not fair.”
He said he understands the move by Beadle is aimed at saving money. He said CPAs and accounts are not “where that would be.”
“It’s another level of regulation on a business that is already highly regulated,” Matte said. “We have national and state standards that we have to meet, so much so that there’s a smaller number of firms in St. Mary Parish practicing governmental auditing and accounting today than there used to be.”
He noted that with current consolidation efforts, having CPAs that have been dealing with those sub-entities of parish government would be beneficial rather than having a turnover.
The ordinance would also invite outside-the-parish competition, Matte noted.
Overruns of 10 percent or more would require new RFPs, which Matte said could become expensive and cumbersome.
Chief Administration Officer Henry “Bo” Lagrange said the ordinance exempts public bodies whose costs for auditing and accounting is less than $7,500 per year.
Councilman Kevin Voisin, noting that RFPs may be beyond the scope of members of some small boards and commissions, said to LaGrange, “Who’s going to do these RFPs? I’d hate for this to fall on you.”
Councilman Craig Mathews said there are upcoming additional requirements for audits from the state level. LaGrange said there would be “agreed upon procedures” when RFPs and cost requests are issued.
Ben Adams, a member of the Patterson Airport Advisory Committee and the Atchafalaya Golf Course Advisory Committee, said, “The last time you voted on an RFP was the golf course. That vote was 11 for. I have no issues with that RFP. You have to look at numbers…I can’t imagine that you can’t vote 11-0 for the audit. RPD only means you can pick whoever you want, whoever you think is best suited.”
Guy Pitts, Pitts & Matte, also pointed out many difficulties the ordinance would allegedly place on public boards. He also noted that board members aren’t experts, with only a few having any expertise in such financial matters and requirements. Pitts said the state legislative auditor receives all audit information at local levels.
“Good accounting and good auditing ain’t cheap, bad accounting and auditing is really, really going to cost you,” Pitts said.
Gerald Thibodeaux, CPA, pointed out several “technical difficulties” with the ordinance and the burdens it would place both on forms and public bodies, some with separate sets of standards. “I can’t tell you how much this is going to cost,” he said. “It’s like telling me to build you a box, but you don’t give me the dimensions of the box.”
Thibodeaux said the ordinance is “a slap in the face” to board members and commissioners. “We deal with them every day,” he said. “They work real, real hard trying to do things right. To me, you’re regulating them by saying you’re not doing the right thing, because, evidently, we’re robbing the parish, it seems to me.”
He urged the council to collaborate with CPAs working for the parish for a better understanding of their work.
Alan Taylor, CPA, said this is his third time facing such a move. “We’re not against competition,” he said. “We’re based on free enterprise. It’s good business, trying to lead people and help people make the best use of their limited funds. Where we stand with this is that we, as a profession, are being singled out, again. Twice before this ordinance has been defeated.”
Taylor said some council members or others may have problems with accountants, but, “What I see is a regulation being laid out for a single profession for no other reason than to try to say that you’re doing something.”
Councilman Craig Mathews said he’s spoken with some chairmen of public boards and the feedback has been, “We’re a volunteer board, we don’t get paid to do this, the work that we’re doing is always cumbersome enough, and we’re not interested in taking on additional responsibilities, as well as the fact that there is some concern about the additional costs, and the risk of compromising the efficiency they’re seeing.”
He said the administration should seek more input from the council when fashioning its annual budget, to help control costs.
Beadle said from the perspective of his own business, he keeps track of all expenses involved in its operation. “As a public official, we’re the same,” he said. “We need to look at every cent, every dollar of every taxpayers hard-earned money. We decide on how that money is spent, and the best way is to get RFPs on everything…let’s get the prices, let’s look at the prices, and get a just price for a service or product that we need.”
He said he understands the stance of the CPAs, but that there will be more RFPs for all parish professional services. He said the golf course RFP ordinance was a matter of taking the burden off the commission and into the council’s hands.
“Our job is to make sure everything is accounted for perfectly,” Beadle said. “So we can actually see how much things cost. That’s all I’m asking, is to see the prices before we make a decision on something that is every expensive to us.”
Beadle said, “We (the council) want to continue kicking the can down the road and not worry about it. Out of sight, out of mind. And that’s not the case. Maybe in your household you get the most expensive (things) but in my household and my business I look at everything.”
He suggested amendments to the ordinance are possible to smooth out some objections.
Councilman Patrick Hebert said he believes the ordinance could be corrected by simply removing the boards and commissions from the price of services cap. “I truly believe we need to look at it,” he said, also noting that some auditors he spoke to said they are only charging two or three thousand dollars a year, and “don’t want to have to deal with this.”
Councilman Glen Hidalgo said the RFP ordinance for the golf course it was intended to give the administration the authority to seek RFPs. “That’s for one entity, an entity since its inception has been losing money,” he said. “We’re not looking to replace the board, but to put somebody in place to help the board.”
When the ordinance was taken up, Beadle moved to table, and the council approved 6-5.