Sloppy accounting troubles residents
Lake St. Charles residents request copies of the
management company's budget, citing a lack of oversight.
COURTESY : Brandon Times
Published July 11, 2003

The salary for a dead person remained on the budget for several years, a fact that has Lake St. Charles residents wondering: What's up with our management company? 

To find out, Lake St. Charles homeowners John and Terri Bakas have filed public records requests with Rizzetta & Co. Inc. to get financial information from the past three years. 

So far, Rizzetta has resisted providing the documentation. 

Lake St. Charles, off U.S. 301 about 1 mile south of Progress Boulevard, is preparing its community development district budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year. A final hearing is scheduled for Aug. 18. 

"The fact that we've had the salary of a person who was deceased still being budgeted indicates there is a lack of oversight of the budget process by the manager and the CDD board," John Bakas said. Bakas said the company has provided budgets from the past three years, but no record of how much money was actually spent. 

In a letter dated June 24, William Rizzetta told Terri Bakas that the company is not subject to the public records law. 

But the Lake St. Charles' CDD contract with Rizzetta states that the company will "maintain the public records of the District." 

A community development district is a governmental body with elected supervisors who are paid to serve on the board. The CDD levies a special assessment that appears each year on a homeowner's tax bill. Last year, about 700 Lake St. Charles homeowners paid $876 each. 

About half of that money repays a bond that funded the Lake St. Charles infrastructure, one-fourth goes to landscape maintenance and the rest supports such items as community events, lighting, security and district administration. 

The CDD hired Rizzetta in 1996 to manage the district, and Nicholas Staszko is the Rizzetta employee assigned to Lake St. Charles. Rizzetta gets $21,000 a year to manage the CDD, Staszko said. 

Bakas said he became concerned with the way the property is being managed in January. Then in June, residents learned that the salary for a maintenance man who had been dead for several years was included in early versions of the budget. The extra money, Staszko said, has been put into reserves or used to fund other items. 

Such sloppy accounting, Bakas said, doesn't allow residents to know what it really costs to run the community.

The five-member CDD board has the power to terminate the contract with Rizzetta, but it is happy with the company's work. 

"I've never had a problem with Rizzetta," board member Rhonda Ort said. "They've been very responsive to me." 

The Bakases agreed that Staszko and the board have responded to resident requests. When asked to reinstate sheriff's patrols, they did so; when asked not to spend $8,000 on new playground equipment, they complied. 

But Bakas still wants more detailed information on how money has been spent in the past. 

Staszko said the documents provided and two budget workshops in June were sufficient. 

"Everyone who's had an interest in the process has had an opportunity to be involved in it," he said. 

But Bakas noted that the proposed budget he received from Rizzetta is a two-page document that he had to pull teeth to get. The north Tampa community of Westchase, on the other hand, posts its 78-page financial report on the Internet. "It's clear that we're not getting the quality of management that we're paying for," Bakas said.