Missouri State Auditor announces audit of the Missouri Department of Conservation

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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 2023 Missouri Supreme Court decision that resulted in limiting the oversight authority of the General Assembly. Fitzpatrick announced that his office has begun an audit of the department that will review how effectively it is using taxpayer dollars to accomplish its mission.

“With every other state department, the General Assembly has a level of oversight provided through the appropriations process that can ensure tax dollars are allocated and used appropriately. However, with that authority now limited due to the court decision, specifically concerning the Department of Conservation, it makes it vitally important that we stand in the gap for taxpayers and provide what will be the only layer of accountability for the department and its spending decisions,” said Fitzpatrick.

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 aid, and income from sales and rentals. While the department has a dedicated funding stream, the General Assembly appropriates the funds to the department each year.

A decision by the legislature in 2020 to not include appropriations for the Department of Conservation’s plan to pay $1 million to acquire 510 acres of land and $900,000 for payments to replace lost property taxes from conservation lands prompted a lawsuit by the Missouri Conservation Commission. In 2023, the Missouri Supreme Court handed down its decision, which said 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 audited in 2018 when it received a rating of “fair.” That report included details of a separation agreement that resulted in more than $120,000 in additional benefits to the former director after he resigned. The report also recommended changes to the department’s comp time policies, which had no limits on some comp time earned or accrued by employees. 

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