An internal audit of Independence Power & Light turned up enough concern about payroll and timekeeping practices that the City Council decided it warrants a closer look now rather than when the audit is finished.

The council Monday directed City Manager Zach Walker to “conduct a review of payroll internal controls” within IPL. The vote was unanimous, According to a city memo, Mark Thoma-Perry, the city's management analyst, told the council's audit and finance committee last week that he had found payroll and timekeeping practices didn't appear to be in line with city policy or the city’s agreement with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 53.

That union representing a large number of IPL employees is in the midst of contract negotiations with the city, and city officials have been searching for ways the last few years to trim utility costs and allow for a rate cut, while also dealing with leadership turnover in that department.

The audit and finance committee, which consists of Council Members Karen DeLuccie, John Perkins and Scott Roberson, unanimously recommended the immediate review ahead of the full audit report, which should be completed by the end of January.

“He thought there might be some irregularities, and it would be good to look into now rather than wait two months or more,” Roberson said.

Monday's council resolution says the city manager's review should be done now “to mitigate risks of fraud and various errors” and should include the timekeeping submittal and approval process, verification of payroll payments being calculated correctly and segregation of duties. Walker should report back to the committee in 45 days.

Roberson said Thoma-Perry didn't provide any details as to whether any fraud or large errors might have happened, but a review is good nonetheless to make sure employees are following procedures, he said.

“We don't want anything going on that shouldn't be,” he said.

Walker said it’s hard to put a dollar figure on what such a review might find, but it will prove helpful if it can “rein in” overtime costs. He said the management analyst's audit, which the committee requested in August, was good for general practices.

Such a review shouldn't affect negotiations he said, but rather could simply provide “a kick in the pants” to make sure everyone is following procedure, Walker said. With federal work regulations governing employees and overtime rules, it can be complicated, and it's not impossible for something to get overlooked.

“I'm glad he caught it,” Walker said of possible payroll issues.