Allegheny County controller to audit Port Authority
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Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty will audit the Port Authority and help provide oversight of spending and other financial matters at the troubled agency.
It's believed to be the first time that the controller will be so actively involved in the agency, with operating and capital outlays approximating $400 million a year, including $25 million of county funds.
The announcement was made yesterday by County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who was flanked by Mr. Flaherty, authority CEO Steve Bland and seven authority board members. On Friday, the authority board ratified a record 15 percent cut in bus-trolley service, effective June 17, to address $35 million of a projected $80 million deficit for the 2007-08 budget year.
"We've invited the independently elected controller to look at the problems we've discovered and changes that we think need to be made," Mr. Onorato said. "We think this will be a helpful tool" in view of the financial crisis and a goal to "right-size" the authority.
He noted that Mr. Flaherty sits as an ex officio member of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, although with no voting power, a move he said "cracked the wall" of autonomy under which many boards, commissions and authorities operate.
Mr. Onorato said he was met with a lack of cooperation and "friction" when he wanted to inspect the authority's books while he served as controller from 1996 through 1999. Two years ago, as chief executive, he put money into the county budget to conduct more audits of county-sponsored entities like the Port Authority.
Mr. Flaherty said Mr. Onorato called him Friday afternoon with a request to do the audit and, in essence, look over the shoulders of the board and staff.
"At the very least, I hope to shed more light on the problems and where we go in the future," Mr. Flaherty said, adding he will examine other urban transit authorities and governing boards as part of the process. "I hope to focus more on government procedures and internal controls. It will be a full-blown audit."
His will be the fourth audit within a year, including an annual audit done by a certified accounting firm to comply with state and federal regulations.
The Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission ordered a performance and financial audit last year as part of its mission to identify statewide infrastructure needs. Recently, state Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview has disclosed intermediate findings of an ongoing examination by his office.
Mr. Onorato and the others yesterday also delivered a pessimistic outlook of the authority's short-term financial situation. Another 10 percent service cut will be needed unless the state provides additional funding, they said.
"This [crisis] isn't over by a long stretch," Mr. Onorato said. "This is just the beginning of trying to fix this agency. There's only so much money. If nothing changes by June, action will be taken" to ratify a second round of cuts to go into effect Sept. 2 to reduce expenses by another $45 million.
Mr. Bland said he wanted to put the past behind the authority.
"I'm anxious to turn the debate and move away from what happened five, 10 or 20 years ago to where we want to be five, 10 or 20 years from now," he said. "Transit is absolutely critical to the economic vitality not only of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, but to sustain the entire region."
First Published April 3, 2007 12:00 am