Ambitious audit plan set: Change orders, inventory, Fire Department, property taxes top list

  • Tyler Benner

By NANCY COOK LAUER

West Hawaii Today

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An audit of contract change orders, property tax revenues, countywide inventory controls and performance of the Fire Department are among 13 projects slated this year by the county’s new auditor.

Auditor Tyler Benner, who took over in July, presented his first annual plan to the County Council on Tuesday.

Benner plans to initiate the four new audits and revisit four previous audits, in addition to monitoring five audits being performed by outside consultants.

Benner told the council the audit choice is based on a risk assessment, with priority given to the probability that adverse events might occur and the degree of damage to the county if they do.

“After considerable discussion with multiple stakeholders in both the executive and legislative branches we designed the workplan to consider priorities which focus on revenues, expenditures, public safety, and safeguarding of assets,” Benner said in his plan.

Change orders and supplemental contracts have long been an issue for the County Council and the public, with former Council Chairman Dominic Yagong in 2011 bringing more transparency to the process by sponsoring a measure requiring regular reports from the administration.

Since then, the county has spent about $70 million in change orders, according to Benner.

“We do see large dollars in change orders that give us pause,” he told the council.

Typical contracts would allow for 10% over or under, Benner said. Once the amount reaches that level, an “ever-increasing level of scrutiny” might come into play to see what happened, he said. There should also be a critique of what went wrong as a self-improvement model, he said.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz agreed.

“I think we’re doing a great job but there is always room for improvement,” Kierkiewicz said.

Property tax revenue management was chosen as an audit topic because it accounts for most of county revenues. In addition, unpaid tax bills have been mounting. Of the almost $337 million in property tax revenues, about $16 million is past-due, Finance Department officials estimate.

Benner said the audit “will explore program efficiency and effectiveness while exploring opportunities to increase revenues.”

The audit of county inventory and fixed assets will be a general view looking across all county departments to analyze operations, internal controls, and program efficiency and efficacy. The goal is to reduce loss in a county that has about $11 million in its materials, tools, and supplies inventory and an additional approximately $182.5 million in its fixed asset inventory, Benner said.

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The auditor is also revisiting audits conducted by the prior auditor, including one on the Department of Human Resources hiring practices, Mass Transit cash handling, Department of Water Supply cash handling and the Department of Water Supply contingency plans.

“Audits can be big and scary, but if you really embrace it, it can be a learning experience and a road map to making things better,” Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said.

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