Two years later, Jungle Island commissioned an economic impact study in which the Washington Economics Group consulting firm found that 1,169 jobs exist because of Jungle Island.
“In total, operations of Jungle Island, along with the associated visitor expenditures, generate almost $41 million in labor income for workers in the city of Miami each year — a significant contribution,” the consultants wrote.
It was not clear how or if the city audit findings could affect the $25 million federal loan. HUD did not immediately respond to questions.
Miami Auditor General Theodore Guba asked for a legal opinion on the matter in an Oct. 26 email to City Attorney Julie O. Bru, records show.
On Tuesday, Bru said she had not yet weighed in. She declined further comment, saying the audit was still in draft form and considered confidential.
City Manager Johnny Martinez also declined to comment.
Commission Vice Chairman Marc Sarnoff said he was troubled by the findings.
Sarnoff, who had not yet reviewed the audit report, pointed out that Jungle Island has had issues upholding its end of the bargain in the past.
Jungle Island “is an area that has always been weak for us,” said Sarnoff, whose commission district includes the aviary attraction. “If there are more issues out there, that’s just further reason for concern.”
City auditors found the park’s financial records appeared to be “reasonably stated” overall, according to the draft of the report obtained by The Miami Herald.
But, in a separate issue, the park overstated its payroll expenses, according to the audit.
In 2010, Jungle Island said it spent $5.5 million on its employees, city auditors found. Strategic Outsourcing Inc., the company that handles payroll for Jungle Island, said the expenses were closer to $4.7 million.
Jungle Island explained the discrepancy by saying it had paid separate vendors for parking personnel and performers.
That did little to satisfy the auditors, who chided park officials for improperly reporting expenses.
“As of this date, we were not provided with an explanation by Jungle Island for including vendor payroll costs in their payroll expenses,” they wrote. “Including vendor payroll expenses with those of Jungle Island overstates Jungle Island’s payroll expenses and may mislead financial statement users.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Melissa Sanchez contributed to this report.