City Hall

How Did No One Notice the Landfill Hemorrhaging Cash? Budget Cuts.

Last month, a report from city auditor Craig Kinton's office enumerated what it politely termed "deficiencies" in the operation of the city's McCommas Bluff landfill. There were a lot of them, since the landfill didn't really have much in the way of procedures to safeguard cash, prevent embezzlement or make sure the city wasn't being gamed by customers who were dumping a lot more garbage than they were paying for.

The upshot was that the city had lost a garbage-truck full of potential revenue over the past decade, a total of $1.1 million, Kinton estimated. That kind of lost dough guaranteed the City Council would take up the issue, which the Budget, Finance, & Audit Committee did Monday.

"We started this audit around May of 2011, and we started to suspect that we had a problem around July," Kinton explained. That became increasingly clear as auditors delved more deeply into the landfill's books.

Assistant City Manager Forest Turner told the committee the city is working to deal with the problems raised in the report and will report to the council in six months. But Councilman Scott Griggs questioned whether city staff are grasping the full scope of the problem, namely that "there are more controls on the number of ketchup packets at McDonald's" than on the $28 million passing through the landfill each year.

The $1.1 million figure is an extremely conservative estimate, he said. The real losses are probably much greater.

Councilman Tennell Atkins wondered how the landfill managed to lose, conservatively, $100,000 in revenue each year without anyone noticing. Kinton couldn't say definitively whether an audit of McCommas Bluff had been performed earlier, but "I started in 2006 and this was the first time we've been able to get around to it in our audit plan."

As for Atkins' questions on why it took so long to get around to the landfill: "When I came, we were budgeted at 28 positions; now we're budgeted for 18," Kinton said. The office simply can't perform as many audits as Kinton would prefer.

That, Atkins said, is troubling.

"It shouldn't have took 11 years. That's a serious problem."

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson