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No third-party audit likely for Resource Recovery

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Members of the City Council Audit and Finance Committee declined Monday to endorse a recommendation from the Zero Waste Advisory Commission that the city hire an independent third party to audit Austin Resource Recovery.

However, they did endorse a recommendation from ZWAC that the new Office of Performance Management prioritize a performance and budget review of the department.

ARR Director Bob Gedert said that he strongly supported the recommendation for a review by the Office of Performance Management but did not support the request for a third-party audit. Gedert told the committee that it could take as long as nine months to go through the procurement process to hire the third-party auditor and would cost the department $150,000.

ZWAC Commission Chair Gerry Acuña came to the committee meeting, asking that it endorse both the independent audit and the city’s in-house performance review.

Acuña said the commission thought “it was important for us to have a better understanding of the cost of service the department was currently experiencing.” He said the commission thought that the independent audit was the best way to accomplish that goal. He said that he and Gedert had had a chance to discuss the question, and Acuña believes the Office of Performance Management would also be able to perform that task. He said his goal was to have the audit done as soon as possible in order to implement its findings within the next budget cycle.

Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart told the committee that the new performance management group would not be able to perform the budget review and performance audits of ARR until after the city has set a budget for Fiscal Year 2016-17.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair expressed concern that there would be no audit of the department prior to the Council making decisions about next year’s departmental budgets. She pressed for the independent audit requested by ZWAC, but she could not get another committee member to second her motion.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo said the Office of Performance Management is going to specialize in doing exactly what the commission would like – a top-to-bottom review of all aspects of the department.

“That includes all programs, all performance measures, all performance goals and objectives. What was the genesis of those goals and objectives? Are they still relevant? Are they being met efficiently? It’s a lot of work. It’s very comprehensive. It’s going to involve months of data collection followed by a lot of vetting and review,” he said.

Van Eenoo said that each performance audit would involve a cross-departmental team followed by the Office of Performance Management staff, who would come up with a set of recommendations for the department.

Acuña told the Austin Monitor, “In February 2010, we had about a 32 to 33 percent diversion rate” from trash to recycling. “Here we are in 2016, and we have about a 39 percent diversion rate,” he said. “We’ve spent over $20 million from our reserve fund” for a small increase.

Gedert said the current diversion rate for city services is about 42 percent. Acuña said Gedert does not “back out the stuff that goes in the trash can.”

ARR spokeswoman Melissa Heald said that the rate varies from month to month and fluctuates between 40 and 43 percent. She said the most current data is for February, and during that month the city diverted 42.95 percent of its collections to recycling. However, she said it is impossible to know how much of those materials eventually ended up in the trash.

Acuña said he was particularly worried about new programs that the department would be contracting for this year without having gone through the audit process.

Photo by That Other Paper made available through a Creative Commons license.

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