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May 25, 2019

4/20/2019 7:29:00 AM
Transit commission searching for solution to audit requirement
Mario Koran
of the River News

The Oneida-Vilas Transit Commission, which oversees Northwoods Transit Connections, is in a pickle.

Last week, members of the Oneida County Administration Committee took the transit commission to task for neglecting required annual audits, pointing out the years of financial turmoil from which the transit commission says its emerging.

The committee told the transit commission it would need to perform a long overdue financial audit if it wanted the county's support for securing a $240,000 loan which would allow it to purchase four buses. The problem: the transit doesn't have the money to hire an auditor.

Transit commission members met this week to brainstorm ways around the requirement.

The transit commission's charter, approved by Vilas and Oneida County boards in 2015, calls for a yearly, independent audit by a certified public accountant. Now in its fourth year of operation, the agency has neither been audited independently nor by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).

Estimated costs for the annual audit tally up to about $7,000. But because an auditor would need to review four years of financial data, costs could range from $25,000 to $35,000.

WisDOT conducts its own audit every two to five years, but a staffing conflict last summer meant its scheduled audit was postponed. An email from WisDOT staffer Chad Reuter said the department expects to schedule the audit in late summer or early fall.

Pointing to the email, Northwoods Transit Connections manager Roger Youngren said the WisDOT audit would likely be more robust than what a CPA would conduct.

"They'd be looking at the same information a CPA would be looking at and they believe their audit is actually more stringent than a CPA audit," Youngren said, adding Reuter indicated he's willing to speak with Oneida County supervisors who took issue with the missing independent audits.

If the transit commission does have to pay for a yearly audit, the money would have to come from local funds generated by grants and ridership, said transit commission member Erv Teichmiller.

WisDOT does provide funding for independent audits if the Transit Commission would have budgeted for it in advance, but that didn't happen this year. Teichmiller said the commission may have to scale back services and provide fewer rides in order to find the money for the audit.

"I can tell you right now that if we have to this year pay for a $25,000 to $35,000 audit there is no money in the budget because it's not budgeted," Teichmiller said. "And there is no way we can adjust that budget unless we go to DOT and say, 'DOT we need to cut back our services to the tune of $25,000 to $35,000' and get approval from them. 'And they may say, no.'"

Meanwhile, the commission's efforts to secure the $240,000 loan for new buses is on hold, pending clarity on the audit that Oneida County requested.

The deal has a two-year window, so the transit commission has until mid-2020 if it plans to close on it.

Due to the Oneida-Vilas partnership, the commission had to get approval from both counties to secure the loan. At the Vilas County Board of Supervisors meeting this week, Teichmiller withdrew a resolution seeking county support for the needed loans.

Because the item was withdrawn, there was no discussion of it at the meeting. But any item approved by Vilas County would be contingent on approval from Oneida County, meaning Vilas County had likely followed Oneida's lead.

To clear the logjam the audit requirement has caused, the transit commission plans to ask Oneida County if it will agree to allow WisDOT's scheduled audit count for this year, then plan for independent audits in future years. "We could tender, for lack of a better word, 'an offer' saying 'let the audit that's coming up for DOT suffice going into the new fiscal year, using monies that will be released by DOT once an audit is finalized,'" commission member and Oneida County supervisor Steven Schreier said. "That's what they need to hear."



In other news:

The transit commission will have to keep searching for a new home after a committee that was formed to study whether the Petco building disbanded the week.

The transit commission, along with the Oneida County Highway Department, considered together occupying about half the space of the massive warehouse facility, but the effort withered after a highway department committee determined the size and cost of the move would be prohibitive.

The transit commission is eyeing the purchase of a new van, a 2017 Dodge Van that the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin no longer need. Fair market value for the van is $18,300 and the commission would have to come up with 20 percent, or about $3,700 to get hold of it.

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





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