Denver’s auditor wants the city and Rocky Mountain Human Services to be more careful with tax money supporting people with disabilities

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Denver City Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien speaks to a reporter in his office, April 3, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The city auditor doesn't dispute that a nonprofit is doing a good job supporting people with disabilities. He just wants it and the city to be more careful with taxpayer money.

Timothy O'Brien's audit of Denver Human Services and the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Human Services was on the agenda Thursday at the regular monthly meeting of the Independent Audit Committee. In 2003, Denver voters approved a property tax to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Denver Human Services has contracted with Rocky Mountain to use the funds to provide help with the rent, transportation, medical care and other services.

The audit reviewed activities in 2017 and 2018, when Denver Human Services paid Rocky Mountain a total of $25.2 million, which auditors said Thursday was the city agency's biggest contract. Rocky Mountain served more than 4,500 people each of those years.

O'Brien's team found that for much of that time, Rocky Mountain submitted requests for reimbursements that included few details and little documentation and in return received what is known as "gap funding." Denver Human Services later began requiring more complete invoices.

"Denver Human Services is relying on Rocky Mountain to oversee itself instead of correctly validating that taxpayer dollars were spent as intended," O'Brien said in a statement.

Don Mares, executive director of Denver Human Services, said the gap funding protocol was inappropriate, but told the audit committee his agency was trying to balance serving people in need and being fiscally responsible. Mares stressed that the auditor had found no fraud or neglect.

The audit included a survey of families who have been supported by Rocky Mountain. They reported a "high level of satisfaction," according to the audit report.

The report also described a Rocky Mountain behavioral health department whose staff's salaries were paid out of the Denver property tax funds, but who served many people who were not Denver residents. That department was closed down last year after questions were raised in an earlier audit.

Shari Repinski, Rocky Mountain's executive director, said shutting down the department had to be done carefully to ensure vulnerable people were not hurt. New service providers had to be found for some clients, she said.

"We certainly appreciate the important work that you do and the DHS performs," O'Brien told her.

Repinski agreed to adopt recommendations in the audit in such areas as improved documentation.

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