The Public Eye

January 26, 2014

The Public Eye: Sacramento gave employees undeserved subsidies for commutes, audit finds

Dozens of Sacramento city employees received extra subsidies to help pay for their commutes in 2012, a report by the city auditor has found.

Dozens of Sacramento city employees received extra subsidies to help pay for their commutes in 2012, a report by the city auditor has found.

The city paid $1.4 million for employees to park in downtown garages or ride mass transit to work in 2012, the report found. The amount included vehicle allowances given to 365 city employees for a total of $614,705.

City Auditor Jorge Oseguera’s audit found many cases in which employees took allowances for more than one mode of transportation.

The report showed 95 workers got up to $90 a month to pay for parking downtown while also receiving a mass-transit allowance. Another nine employees received free parking in city garages in addition to a monthly check to help pay for parking in downtown.

Oseguera said in an interview that his office did not discover cases of wrongdoing by city employees.

“If we saw patterns of evidence that pointed to potentially fraudulent activity, we would have gone down that road” and exposed it, he said. “We didn’t see any evidence of that.”

Instead, Oseguera determined that the city’s agreements with its labor unions don’t go far enough to clearly define which allowances employees can receive. The audit also called the city’s guidelines on those subsidies “inconsistent.”

“In order to prevent employees from receiving benefits they are not eligible for, the city should develop a monitoring mechanism to identify and prevent inappropriate application of transportation-related benefits,” Oseguera wrote.

The auditor added that a lack of clear language in the city’s contracts with labor organizations creates “a risk for undesirable application of these transportation-related payments.” He said the city should negotiate with unions to limit the number of transit benefits it allows.

In a letter responding to the audit, city Director of Human Resources Geri Hamby said her department plans to “obtain a list of employees that are receiving city-paid parking” and will use that list to determine “who is eligible to receive the mass-transit subsidy.”

Human resources also will explore using the city’s internal personnel system “to track employees who are receiving multiple transportation-related benefits,” Hamby wrote. Finance Department officials said they would control the distribution of Regional Transit passes and other transportation subsidies.

The findings are part of a broader report completed by Oseguera’s office that also revealed the city Fire Department spent roughly $7 million in overtime pay in 2012, or about half the city’s total overtime budget.

The audit also showed that the city paid $24.6 million in incentive packages to its employees in 2012, including pay bumps for workers who earn bachelor’s degrees and special licenses. Allowances given to employees to pay for uniforms, technology and transportation expenses cost the city another $2.5 million.

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