Controller: California water district misspending "shocking"


FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — An irrigation district in central California's prime farming region gave its employees free housing, interest-free loans and concert tickets, possibly breaking the law, state officials said Tuesday.

Panoche Water District based in Firebaugh issued employees credit cards used to buy season tickets to Raiders and Oakland A's games and attend a Katy Perry concert, officials said.

The district gave $86,000 in interest-free loans to its employees over two years — one settling his debt with $50 payments every two weeks on a schedule that would take more than 23 years to fulfill, according to California State Controller Betty Yee.

Accounting practices were so lax that it is likely the district paid for some personal charges also made to Ralph Lauren, Nike and Sunglass Hut, officials said.

"The district's egregious lack of spending oversight is shocking," Yee said in a statement. "It is especially troubling in a region where effective water governance is so vital for the agricultural community."

The Panoche Water District delivers irrigation water to farmers in Merced and Fresno counties who work 38,000 acres along Interstate 5 in one of the nation's most productive regions.

Yee says the district lacked written policies, ignored administrative procedures and potentially violated state law. She is considering next what action to take to hold officials at Panoche and other small water districts like accountable.

Officials at Panoche have documented corrective actions they are taking or plan to take in response to the review, state officials said. Panoche officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images


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