10/8/2019 7:29:00 AM Oneida Vilas Transit Commission discusses 'conflict of interest' policy'
Kayla Houp Of the Lakeland Times
With its audit completed and reviewed, the Oneida Vilas Transit Commission has turned its attention to the task of implementing various recommendations made by the auditor.
As part of that process, the Commission was presented with a conflict of interest policy sample at its last meeting, Sept. 30.
Implementing a conflict of interest policy was one of a "number of recommendations" made as a result of the audit and is meant to not only define the term within the context of the commission, but also provide the commission direction as to how to address potential conflicts of interest in the future.
Commission chair Erv Teichmiller said it should be noted the sample applied to nonprofit organizations, and while the Commission is a nonprofit, it is also governmental in nature.
"I'm suggesting that we might want to have our attorney review both the state statutes, as well as any other conflict of interest policies so that we don't go bouncing back and forth between what we decide and what our attorney might later say," Teichmiller said.
Teichmiller recommended delaying the conflict of interest policy pending review by the attorney to identify standards and models available for the Commission's consideration.
Commission vice chair Bob Mott agreed, noting there may be additional resources and policies the Commission was unaware of.
"It's one of the requests that came out of the audit investigation, right, and that would be one that we're handling that way," Mott said.
"The point here is to do this right, required is information that we don't have today," commission member Chuck Hayes said. "And if we can get it in a month, or two months, whatever, the important part is to get it right."
Commission member Steven Schreier asked if the direction was to have the Commission's attorney review the policy language, identify what would best serve the Commission as a nonprofit governmental agency and bring the policy back to the Commission.
"I think we need to ask our attorney to look at these, look at the statues, and whatever the statue says is what we need to live by as a government agency," Teichmiller said.
Aside from the conflict of interest policy, Teichmiller said the auditor also made recommendations related to fiscal bookkeeping and record keeping.
"Bank reconciliation is the first one in the packet. I've been signing those after Barb (Newman, office manager) completes the bank reconciliation, that was a recommendation," transit manager Roger Youngren said.
Having a checks and balances system was one of the recommendations from the auditor to essentially catch mistakes before they happened.
"For the minutes, we can indicate that those two steps are being done in compliance with the recommendation," Teichmiller said.
Teichmiller also said both counties needed to be notified the Commission is complying with audit recommendations.
"It is my recommendation that we reach an agreement with an outside CPA firm to just review what we're doing on a monthly basis," Youngren said. "Again, a segregation of duties."
Youngren said he was comfortable giving out the budget report every month, but would feel more comfortable if that information came from an outside source. He noted he had reached out to three local CPA firms.
"We're talking anywhere from $250 to $300 a month to review our books and perhaps get them to send me the financials on a monthly basis before our board meeting and that report would come from a CPA firm rather than me," Youngren explained.
Techmiller directed Youngren to get more information, including cost and time estimates, to bring back to the Commission.
Should a contract be approved, Youngren said he would want it to take effect as soon as possible.
"Now these are currently unbudgeted funds. Can we cover this through the rest of this year?" Hayes asked.
Youngren indicated they could, as there would only be one or two months the services would be used for the rest of the year.
According to Youngren, the contract would fall under professional services. The Commission is under budget on that item for the year, it was noted.
Teichmiller asked if, after two or three months of reviews, the Commission would still need the CPA firm to review it.
"In my mind, it's still a segregation of duty," Youngren said.
Teichmiller asked if they should run the idea past the auditor who conducted the audit before making any decisions.
Over the course of the discussion, Mott brought concerns to the Commission's attention regarding the audit recommendation process.
Mott said he went through the audit recommendations and wondered if the recommended periodic updates to the administration committees were the Commission's responsibility, or if it needed to be shared with the Oneida County administration committee.
Hayes asked if the Commission had made any commitments to either county board.
"What are we currently doing?" Teichmiller asked.
Youngren said they are currently emailing both county's finance directors copies of the monthly budget reports and statement of financial condition.
"If there's any question on the part of the county board chair from either county as to where that information is going, they need to be reminded, perhaps, again that it's going to the finance director of their county, who in fact reports to them as the committee of jurisdiction."
While he felt as though what they were doing currently was sufficient, Teichmiller said they could forward the information to the county chairs if requested.
Mott turned the Commission's attention to questions about financial statements.
"I am confused about that particular area," Mott said. "Because it seems that we have, when we say that the budget is addressed each month, where we stand financially is addressed each month, but I'm not sure what they're asking for."
Schreier said it was his understanding that, with their compliance, the Commission would honor the charter language which stated the organization would conduct an audit on a yearly basis.
Since both county board chairs and fiscal managers received copies of the audit, Teichmiller said it was their obligation as "custodians of that report" to report the information if they needed to.
"If what they're asking us to do is send out a copy to every county board member, well tell us to do that. If, on the other hand, we have fulfilled that obligation by giving it to the county board chair and to the fiscal manager, I think it's their responsibility to pass it on or report it to their county board," Teichmiller said.
He said he felt as though the Commission had satisfied what they had been directed to do.
'I don't believe that's correct'
Mott said he was concerned about criticism that they "didn't have any idea about having financial statements," which, to him, suggested the Commission did not know where it stood financially.
"I felt that every month, when we get the documentation of where we are with the budget that we do know where we stand financially," Mott said.
Teichmiller cited, but did not name, an article published in The Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News which indicated a county board chair reportedly saying that there was "no monthly financial report."
He said they reported how much money the Commission had every month.
"We send that document every month to the two financial directors. We have done what we have been asked to do, and if somebody from the county board reports it inaccurately, or if the newspaper reports it inaccurately, I don't know what we can do," Teichmiller said.
Schreier said he understood it as discovering through the audit process that there were some issues to address.
"And that, as a result of having your yearly audit, you may discover things that needed to be addressed that weren't addressed, month to month, so to speak, because that's what you pay an auditor to do," Schreier said.
Mott said those were two different things, and to say the Commission was unaware of their financial position was another.
"I have no problem with doing an audit. I have no problem with complying with commonly accepted accounting practices, but to suggest, and I think that's the suggestion, that we didn't know where we were because we don't have this particular document, I don't believe that's correct," Mott said.
Ridership and routes
The OVTC also revisited a conversation regarding routes and potential route changes.
Youngren reported that Northwoods Transit Connection had increased ridership for the month of August.
"But, in particular, this Eagle Eye service. Look at that number for August. It's 12. And seven of those are nutrition-based going to the Land O' Lakes food pantry," Youngren said. "We don't have people riding from Land O' Lakes or Conover, and this is something we've got to decide on before we complete the budget in 2020."
Youngren said the OVTC needed to decide if they wanted to maintain the route, which runs three days a week.
In the nine months the route has been running, Youngren said he hadn't seen anything that indicated there would be a significant jump in ridership in the area, despite attempts to promote the route, which starts in Eagle River and runs to Phelps and Land O' Lakes before going through Conover on the way back to Eagle River.
"The riders that are going to the food pantry are only going twice a month, that's probably your seven," Aging and Disability Resource Center of Vilas County Sue Richmond said.
Richmond also noted the lack of transportation options in the Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters area was discussed at the last ADRC meeting.
Richmond recommended keeping the route for the two days it transported people to the food pantry and make it a grocery or food pantry stop while trying a route in the Manitowish Waters and Boulder Junction areas on the other weeks or days they weren't transporting people to the food pantry.
"I've been getting a lot of calls in that area. We have absolutely no drivers in that area, volunteers in that area, to service people," Richmond said.
"And the food pantry and meals are both in Boulder Junction," Hayes clarified.
Richmond said she didn't know if they would get riders to the food pantry or nutrition site, but that there were no transportation services in the area.
Teichmiller directed Youngren and Richmond to discuss it further.
Teichmiller wanted to give it more time, unless it was "very obvious" the route wasn't working.
"It's very obvious," Youngren said. "We haven't taken a rider yet from Land O' Lakes or Conover. To me, that's very obvious."
"If there is an option for another area that might utilize or respond to a need, well let's experiment with that," Teichmiller said. "I don't know if that's something, if I want be part of that conversation to try and micromanage it. Bring us the recommendation on it."
As the discussion continued, Youngren recommend potentially increasing the local fare by .25 from the current fare of $1.
Compared to other transit systems, Youngren said the NTC was right around the middle in terms of how much it charges for fares.
Teichmiller said if the fares became prohibitive and ultimately began to cost the NTC ridership, he would be opposed to raising the fares by the 25%, or 25 cents, that Youngren suggested.
Youngren was directed to bring the topic to the commission at a future meeting along with a more in-depth discussion on routes.
In other business the OVTC:
Considered a new facility on County Highway 17 for the organization, and ultimately made plans to pursue the facility further pending inspections.
The Commission also discussed looking into utilizing a storage facility in Arbor Vitae for leasing space for buses.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah @lakelandtimes.com.
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