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County auditor discusses 'watchdog' role and O.C. finances at Newport meeting

The Orange County auditing team didn’t find anything alarming in a routine audit of Newport Beach’s Bayshore Marina, which the Irvine Co. leases from the county.

The internal audit of the marina, which pays the county about $407,000 a year in rent, found that the operators understated their income by $85 between August 2014 and July 2015 — out of their roughly $4 million in revenue, Eric Woolery, Orange County’s auditor-controller, said.

Woolery’s anecdote during Thursday’s Wake Up Newport breakfast meeting at the Newport Beach Central Library drew chuckles from the audience.

“You might say that’s kind of a waste of county resources to chase that down for $85,” Woolery said. “The intent of our audit is not to chase down money, per se. In fact, on one of these audits we found that the lessor paid too much and granted them a credit of over $11,000 back. We’re trying to make sure the processes were done right.”

As the county’s elected auditor-controller, Woolery, an accountant by trade, leads “taxpayer watchdog” financial oversight through reviews and reports of the county’s assets, including the revenue-generating leases that could be prone to waste or abuse.

The Bayshore Marina audit stands in contrast to an audit released last year of the county-owned, contractor-run Dana Point Marina Inn, where investigators learned that an informal “friends and family” program had been abused at a cost to the county of about $62,000.

In his wide-ranging talk, Woolery also touched on the county’s steadily climbing public employee retirement costs, which are estimated at $426 million this year and $565 million by 2022; its response to local homelessness; the under-construction Building 16 administrative complex, the first county-built building since the 1970s; and the final payment in July of the county’s $1 billion in bankruptcy bonds.

With California now a “sanctuary state,” one audience member asked Woolery how a new state law that restricts how state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer suspects at the request of federal immigration authorities will affect Orange County if the Trump Administration makes good on its threats to withhold funding to states and cities with such rules.

Woolery said that would require a policy decision at the level of the Board of Supervisors but also said a loss of federal funds would quickly drain county reserves.

“If the federal government does turn off the spigot, we’re going to have a major problem fairly quickly,” he said.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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