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Lack of control
During presentations for City of Bremerton departmental 2012 budget requests last fall, the interim public works director and a few key city leaders joked about not wanting to cut back too much on city fuel consumption or else the city might face a sudden decline in its own gas tax revenues. That’s when the police department asked for $250,000 for gas – an increase of $70,000 more than the 2011 budget. The total requested fuel equates to more than 1,500 gallons – 25,000 driving miles – per year per car patrolling Bremerton’s 26 square miles.
Shortly before the 2012 budget was approved under pressure of deadline in the closing days of December, the police were unable to explain how or why they would use the fuel that they requested; an amount nearly double what the Seattle Police Department reported using per car and 50 percent more that the local Washington State Patrol reports budgeting for their cars. Neither could they explain why the department might need 17,000 gallons more this year than last. “I couldn’t even guess,” said Capt. Tom Wolf.
A recent city audit asked nearly the same question of the entire city; how do they track fuel use and consumption? Though the city has an employee dedicated to manage its fleet of cars and trucks, the city has no established procedure to monitor fuel use by employees with 24/7 pin-numbered card access.
The recent audit peals back the veneer a little to reveal a city public works department that is unmanaged and perhaps run by employees. With the city on its fourth public works director since 2010, the lack of leadership is evident in the audit outcome which details the city’s inability to understand where the money, via gasoline an diesel use, goes. In one case, according to the audit, one department was paying for another’s gas. The city finance director last fall said that she doubted that anyone understood the public works budget fully.
The audit results come at a time when the city raised taxes to cover shortages for funding the public works department and as the city council is on record saying the 2012 budget is now fine and perhaps building a reserve. Yet, at the same time, at least one of the largest city departments, charged with monitoring several others’, cannot account for its own spending. With the recently hired Director of Public Works on the job about a month, he is yet to see the audit and this week said he knows nothing about the $500,000 issue of fuel use. Accountability therefore falls on the mayor, who this week said she asked the police and fire departments to better monitor their use in an effort to make the city more accountable and is looking into a policy to direct better accounting of the city’s fuel use.