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June 25, 2019

4/16/2019 7:27:00 AM
Oneida County committee members blast transit commission, demand audit
Mario Koran
Of the Northwoods River News

In a scathing rebuke to a request by the Oneida-Vilas Transit Commission, members of a joint administration, labor relations and employee services committee last week told the transportation agency it must submit to a yearly audit.

The transit commission, which oversees Northwoods Transit Connections, has sought revisions to its charter, which among other changes would provide the agency more freedom to borrow short-term loans and relief from an annual, independent audit.

Also before the committee was a resolution to approve the transit commission's efforts to seek a $240,000 loan to purchase four new buses.

The county's administration committee has to sign off on the charter revisions before they are formalized - but members made clear last week that would not be happening in its current form.

"I'm of the firm opinion an audit is needed," county supervisor and committee chair David Hintz said.

The current charter, approved by Oneida and Vilas counties in 2015, calls for an annual, independent audit by a certified public accountant.

"This shall be started within 180 within the close of each fiscal year and completed within 60 days of inception," the charter reads.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the commission has not been audited independently nor by Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Because records carry over from year to year, Hintz said the transit commission would need to audit its finances from previous years.

Northwoods Transit Connections manager Roger Youngren said he is not against an audit, just concerned about costs. WisDOT would provide funding for the audit if budgeted in advance, but the agency did not budget for it this year.

"Let me just say that I'm not opposed to an audit. Not at all. It's just a matter of the funding," Youngren said. "We did not budget for an audit or previous years' audit in this 2019 budget. Had we put it in, we could have got some of those funds approved, but I don't know how we're going to come up with, whatever the cost is, $8,000 a year for an audit."

"I don't question your estimate, but the money has to be found by the commission," Hintz said.

County supervisor and committee member Robb Jensen said the audit requirement had been part of the charter, its governing document, since the beginning.

"If that (requirement has) been there and the commission hasn't chosen to do that, in some ways that's not our fault," Jensen said.

After a tumultuous few years financially, members of the transit commission say the agency has turned a corner. They hired new transit manager in Youngren and enlisted consultants to institute best practices. At its committee meeting last month, members reported the transit agency finished last year $5,600 in the black.

But Hintz said the committee had lived through the struggles and wanted to make sure the transit commission had found sound financial footing.

"At certain points the transit commission was on life support," Hintz said. "I don't think that's an exaggeration due to financial condition, not being able to pay their bills. Having new buses sitting there months on end and not knowing how to pay for those. I think we're over some of that hump. But, the county process and records carry on from year to year, and I think it's absolutely necessary that this audit be completed."

The committee agreed the resolution for the transit commission to seek a $240,000 loan to pay for four new buses would have to wait until the audit was conducted. Youngren said it will delay the purchases.

"We'll struggle through it," he said.

Supervisor Billy Fried said the committee's decision comes down to responsibility to the public.

"Some of these things are just growing pains," Fried said. "But the thing for us representing Oneida County is we need to have things tight. That requires an audit. I mean over the start of this to me part of it has seemed sloppy. And for us to go and sponsor and support resolutions for more funding, I need to be able to tell Oneida County people I'm comfortable with it."

Mario Koran may be reached via email at mario@rivernewsonline.com.





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