September 3, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria audit closer to release

ELYRIA — The soon-to-be-released state audit of Elyria operations will likely tell city officials several things, including how the city is losing money by not correctly assessing how much water customers are paying for and that the minimum number of firefighters the city should have is around 65.

Without the full document in hand, Mayor Holly Brinda has released few details about what the report will likely contain. But she said Tuesday the audit findings are worth the $119,000 loan the city took out to pay for the evaluation.

“I think it will give us some very good information,” she said. “In so many areas, we have more information than before. I will say the findings are based on the previous administration and administrative process through 2011. Most of the observations are based on the years we weren’t here and one of the reasons why we are doing this is to get a baseline for improvement.”

The review of city operations began in early 2012 and picked up again toward the end of the year after the state auditor’s office underwent an internal reorganization. The process has been delayed roughly four months, but Brinda said auditors have briefed her.

“I don’t have a final copy because it continues to be adjusted,” she said. “I get a read-only copy, and I hand it back to them.”

Today and Thursday, City Council members will meet with auditors for individual read-only reviews of the audit. The meetings are designed to give Council members a last opportunity to comment.

Councilmen Tom Callahan, D-at large, and Vic Stewart, D-at large, will attend a meeting at 7:30 p.m. today.

“But I’m waiting to see what they say before I make a judgment call,” Callahan said.

Stewart was the only councilman to vote against the audit when it was approved last year. At that time, he said the city already had a blueprint to follow in the audits of comparable cities.

On Monday, during a public discussion on how to spend the city’s $3.4 million insurance policy windfall, Brinda discussed some of the audit’s findings, especially concerning the Fire Department. She put the number of how many firefighters the audit said the city should have as a minimum in the context of what financial pitfalls the city will face in the next 18 months.

During that time, not only will the federal grant paying the salary and benefits of 23 firefighters expire, but the city’s temporary income tax will expire and roughly $500,000 in COPS grants will run out.

“I asked the number knowing what is going to happen in the future and because I wanted an idea of what is reasonable based on national standards and standards based on peer cities,” Brinda said. “The question was ‘is the number of firefighters we had before the grant safe’ and the answer was no. Now we will have to look at what we can afford to do. Clearly, it’s my opinion I don’t want our fire forces to return to a base minimum of 52 firefighters.”

Other tidbits include the possibility of the city taking on ambulance service in the city. Brinda said earlier this month the audit outlines three possible scenarios without favoring one option: split service between firefighting and EMS within the Fire Department; continue the agreement with LifeCare with some modifications to allow for more Fire Department involvement; or go completely private for EMS.

Also, it will likely be learned that the city is actually losing revenue by not properly metering water usage. The city is in the process of replacing meters in the city.

“But we are losing a lot of revenue in undercalculated water meters,” Brinda said.

Brinda said once Council has reviewed the audit she will have two weeks to prepare the city’s response. At that time, state Auditor Dave Yost will make the document public.

Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, said he there will be a meeting to go over the findings and frame how the recommendations will be used.

“We’ll see what they have to say and then go from there,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.