Auditor gulps over water bill
El Dorado County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn castigated the county Department of Transportation for mishandling a utilities statement from the city of Placerville. According to the original bill, the county’s Buildings A and B at the government center consumed 1 million cubic feet of water more than the actual amount used during a two-month billing period ending last October.
The cost to the county would have been $208,759 had the bill been paid and not eventually re-reviewed. As it turned out, Harn explained in a two-page letter to the Board of Supervisors, “My staff’s diligence saved the county $131,200.”
Utility records from the city showed an 800 percent increase in usage from 2010 to 2011 in water and sewer services, Harn noted. The specifics of the apparent oversight were only part of Harn’s complaint as his letter sought to “document my concerns about our county Department of Transportation’s culture and financial management.”
“DOT’s lack of professionalism in dealing with a utility bill from the city of Placerville illustrates the depth of the problem,” Harn continued.
Chronicling his efforts to resolve the issue, Harn noted that as of Aug. 18, “DOT’s chief financial officer indicated that there has been no written communication between DOT management and the city regarding this matter.”
“This is ridiculous and clearly indicates the lack of care, concern, and responsibility by DOT’s management when it comes to the public’s money. If our water bill increases 800 percent, DOT management has a responsibility to write the city to document our concerns and to explain that the utility bill will remain unpaid until our concerns have been resolved,” the letter stated.
DOT Director Jim Ware said he took the auditor’s remarks to heart. In an interview at the county Government Center late last month, Ware acknowledged, “The auditor was correct that we should have caught that and we didn’t. There was an overpayment to EID for water.
“We have to spend the public’s money wisely, and everything we do has to be flawless,” Ware added.
Although his department processes more than 8,000 transactions a month, he continued, “No excuses and no free pass.”
The Department of Transportation oversees all utility bills for county-owned or county-leased property and has a staff of 20 in its financial division dealing with “fiscal issues, construction contracts, dogs that get run over in the road, speed bumps and signs,” Ware explained.
“When we received the bill, my staff’s original instinct was that something was wrong, but we had to go forward with their billing figures. We contacted EID to have the meters checked, our grounds crews checked for everything from a broken main to leaking valves and couldn’t find anything to explain that kind of increase,” he recalled.
Ware’s chief financial officer, Ruth Young, wrote to county Chief Administrative Office analyst Laura Schwartz last week explaining her staff’s efforts to figure out and solve the problem going back to November/December last year.
Young’s letter read in part:
“We met with EID and EID was certain it was a problem with our appliances and that something had been running, leaking, etc. and that’s what caused the higher consumption, especially since the consumption after December 2010 was back to normal. After what I believe to be a thorough investigation had taken place I submitted the invoices for payment believing them to be accurate at the time.”
Early last week, however, much of the mystery had been resolved. In a letter from EID Meter Services Supervisor Jim Pritchard to Jim Ware dated Aug. 26, the water agency acknowledged that its meter had been read manually, and the information was entered incorrectly. Typically the meter is configured to be read by radio, Pritchard noted. That resulted in two billing errors in October and December 2010.
In addition Pritchard explained that an “irrigation sub-meter” had malfunctioned between February and April of this year. Subsequently, the same meter failed again but has since been recalibrated and tested. Pritchard’s letter further noted that EID would credit the county’s account for $12,430.
Ware said his staff would be double-checking all meters and facilities from now on and coordinating with EID and the city to avoid any similar occurrences in the future.