'There was no indication that the shortages had been researched as no explanations for the shortages were documented on the paperwork' - city audit
City Parking Meters Ripe for Theft – That Is, When They’re Not Broken
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Albuquerque’s process for collecting money from parking meters is so lacking in internal controls that city employees could be stealing money and no one would know, says an internal audit of the Parking Division.
The city has sometimes gone months without collecting money from the meters. It often doesn’t know when the digital machines are malfunctioning. And it doesn’t reconcile the money collected against what the meters say should be in them, said the audit by the city’s Office of Internal Audit.
And when there are discrepancies, the city’s Security & Parking Services Division doesn’t investigate, the June 22 audit said.
Between January and May, Parking Services had not regularly collected money from multi-space pay stations. As of April 20, those stations collectively contained $38,500 in uncollected revenue sitting in collection boxes inside the pay stations, the audit said.
Pay-station system in disarray
The audit found seven major areas of concern with the way money from the meters is handled, including a lack of reconciliations, no investigation into discrepancies, unreliable pay station data, pay stations that don’t work and policies and procedures that were either outdated or unapproved.
“Without strong internal controls in the above areas, the Division does not have assurance that the City’s parking meter and pay station revenue is complete or accurate,” the audit said. “Therefore, errors and discrepancies in revenue from theft, fraud, or abuse or errors due to lack of oversight may exist and remain undetected.”
The city operates 763 single-space parking meters and more than 60 multi-space pay stations for a total of 1,300 metered parking spaces. Parking revenue in FY2015 was $955,655, up from $907,838 the previous year, the audit said.
No Reconciliation of Meters
The biggest problem with the Parking Division is that it doesn’t “reconcile parking meter/pay station collection receipts to actual funds received each time a collection is made,” the audit said. Auditors examined records from parking meters all across the city for 12 randomly selected days dating back to November 2014 and found that ten of the reports showed less money was collected than the meters said was in them. Those shortages ranged from $793 to $8.10.
There were both shortages and nine overages in money collected, the report found. But the city apparently didn’t look into the shortages. “There was no indication that the shortages had been researched as no explanations for the shortages were documented on the paperwork,” the audit said.
The audit also found that the city doesn’t reconcile pay station credit card transactions, but instead just “records the credit card amounts that post to the city’s bank statement.”
Half of All Pay Stations are Broken
Pay stations are breaking down and the city’s hasn’t fixed them. “At the time of the audit, 34 out of 64 pay stations (53 percent) were not accepting any form of payment,” the audit said, explaining that the problem was due to broken parts, communications errors and the fact that the stations hadn’t been emptied, were full and couldn’t accept any more money.
The audit also said there has been a breakdown in how cash is collected from pay stations.
In previous years, employees would open a pay station, take out its metal cash box and replace it with an empty cash box. But because the boxes have been damaged over the years, city employees now open the boxes, empty the money into a “tamper-proof bag” and put the box back into the meter. That requires “the collection staff to openly handle large amounts of cash and coin on the street and may increase the risk of loss or theft,” the audit said.
Parking Services is part of the city’s Department of Municipal Development and is headed by Mark A. Shepherd. ABQ Free Press called Shepherd’s office for comment on the audit and was told to call DMD spokeswoman Melanie Martinez. Martinez said the problems found by the audit were related to the old pay station meters that are in the process of being replaced by single meters.
“Many of these concerns will be adequately addressed with the ongoing process of replacing these units with the new single space smart meters,” Martinez said. “We are on track to complete the replacement of all 35 existing pay stations in the Downtown corridor this Summer. The meters have advanced featured including text and email messaging alerting staff when they need attention or collection.”
Shepherd, a former Albuquerque police officer, was sued in 2015 for sexual harassment by a female employee who claimed that Shepherd told her that his city desk was shaped like a penis, made hand gestures mimicking masturbation, sent her a sexually suggestive birthday card, repeatedly hugged her, allegedly kissed her and suggested that she go to his house.
The city settled the case in February for $185,000 and Shepherd remained on the job and the female employee was transferred to another job.
The audit said that in FY2013 the Parking Division made changes that tightened security and parking meter collection oversight, including re-keying all pay stations. “Following the changes, parking meter and pay station revenues began to increase and management reported sudden staff turnover within the [Parking] Division,” the audit said.
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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