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Auditor Fitzpatrick announces audit of the Missouri Department of Conservation – Newstalk KZRG

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (June 3, 2024) – Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick wants to provide an additional layer of accountability for the Missouri Department of Conservation, which now has unprecedented autonomy over its approximately $215 million budget due to a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court of 2023 that resulted in a limitation of the General Assembly’s supervisory authority.

Fitzpatrick announced today that his office has begun an audit of the department that will assess how effectively it is using taxpayer dollars to accomplish its mission.

“In every other state department, the General Assembly has a level of oversight through the appropriations process that can ensure taxpayer dollars are allocated and used appropriately. However, now that that power is limited as a result of the court ruling, particularly in relation to the Department of Conservation, it is critical that we stand in the gap for taxpayers and ensure what is the only layer of accountability will be for the department and its spending decisions,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is funded by a one-eighth of one percent sales tax, which generates approximately $160 million in funding each year that goes directly to the agency. The department also receives funding from permit sales, federal assistance, and revenue from sales and rentals. Although the department has a specific funding stream, the General Assembly allocates the funds to the department each year.

A 2020 decision by the Legislature not to include appropriations for the Department of Conservation’s plan to pay $1 million for the acquisition of 510 acres of land and $900,000 for payments to replace lost property taxes from conservation lands led to a lawsuit by the Missouri Conservation Commission. In 2023, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature cannot restrict the Conservation Commission from using appropriated funds for any of the purposes listed in the Missouri Constitution.

The department was last inspected in 2018, when it was rated ‘fair’. That report included details of a separation agreement that resulted in more than $120,000 in additional benefits for the former director after he resigned. The report also recommended changes to the department’s comp time policy, which placed no limits on comp time earned or accrued by employees.

Individuals may provide confidential information for consideration during the Missouri Department of Conservation audit to the State Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline at 800-347-8597, by email at [email protected] or by visiting www.auditor.mo.gov/hotline.