A just released audit of the Onondaga County Probation Department by the County Comptroller reveals problems with the way probation officers were counting reimbursable mileage while making home visits to criminal offenders. The audit shows probation officers receiving anywhere from $9.00 to $29.00 in excessive payments each month because they did not take the shortest route for each home visit. Comptroller Bob Antonacci and his staff did not add up the total dollars wasted on over reimbursement.
Our CNY Central Waste Watch report shows the auditors gave the probation department several weeks to analyze the audit and offer a response. Antonacci added, "Our Probation Department does a great job. We appreciate their cooperation and their response to our audit recommendations and findings.â?? Probation was randomly selected for the audit. The Comptroller said it is an important department to monitor because it does have a high level of useage of local property tax dollars as opposed to state or federal money.
The audit looked at a sampling of mileage reimbursement requests during the first three months of 2013. The comptrollers staff compared mileage reimbursement requests with the shortest route results from Google maps. "We felt it was a credible source, an independent source that we use to corroborate mileage being claimed by employees," said Antonacci.
The audit found four areas of concern. First, violations of county policy which mandates employees must take the most direct route possible when being reimbursed for mileage. Secondly, daily log sheets did not always indicate the name or complete address of the person being visited by probation staff. Thirdly, employees were punching into work from home, but then claiming mileage as if they had started at the downtown Civic Center. Finally, several employees were working seven hour days and skipping unpaid lunch breaks as mandated by New York State Labor Law.
In a response dated October 15th, the Onondaga County Probation Commissioner Andrew Sicherman defends the good work done by probation employees, but also acknowledges some of the short comings discovered in the audit and corrective actions taken. Sicherman explains how probation oversees more than three thousand offenders. They keep watch over them by using their own vehicles for field visits.
The response explains how it is not always possible to take the most direct route for each home visit due to construction, unplanned visits and unfamiliarity with geographic areas. Sicherman admits on occasion probation officers neglect to record which clients they are visiting. He also said some officers would punch into an electronic system from home, but then claim mileage as if they had started a route from the downtown Civic Center.
Finally, Sicherman noted that some probation officers have been working seven hours straight without taking a mandated lunch. The Probation Department claimed an understanding the practice was legal, but they were seeking more guidance from Personnel on whether the seven hour day should continue. The legal department has not yet resolved the lunch issue.
LESSONS FOR OTHER DEPARTMENTS:
Comptroller Antonacci is hopeful the lessons learned on this audit regarding personal mileage will carry over to other county departments. "We didn't think in the totality there was a real egregious problem there. It's the little things that matter, as you point out in your question. We feel overall they're doing a nice job," Antonacci added.