The Ottumwa Courier

September 26, 2013

Driving away debt

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The financial health of public transportation in Wapello County is on the rise.

The 10-15 Regional Transit board met Thursday for the regular meeting, where board members discussed the ups and downs of operating 46 buses across multiple counties.

For one thing, a unanimous vote means they now have 47 buses. Board members accepted a vehicle from the city of Ottumwa's transit group; it's a bus that 10-15 had given Ottumwa when there was a need. With that need ended, the city offered to return it, which the board accepted Thursday.

They'll be able to use the bus to continue what has been a growth year. The debt the organization had previously accumulated has been settled, officials said.

"I think it's looking pretty good," said Bob Jay, the finance director for the city of Ottumwa. He has been keeping the books for 10-15. "We've finished up slightly better than we expected [in regards to] our fund balance."

Part of that is because transit director Dave Silverio was able to find some money that the community was owed and get it returned.

"It's a pleasant surprise," Jay said, prompting at least three board members to comment on how rare those are.

And while there were some challenges to discuss, the transit director had additional good news.

The Iowa Department of Transportation contacted Silverio, he reported, to tell 10-15 that "all penalties are now paid."

In fact, he said after the meeting Thursday, that at this time, all government fees have been satisfied.

"Both agencies, 10-15 and Ottumwa transit, are paid up," Silverio said. "It's done."

Internally, though, there are still mazes to get through. Silverio said his staff is finding old paperwork that says the agency was not receiving payment for some services they are or were providing.

In one case, for example, no one was checking on the bill being sent to a government agency. Actually, 10-15 was sending the bill to an agency — the agency just wasn't paying it. That went unnoticed for about two years. When staff was assigned by Silverio to review accounts payable, they caught this oversight, as well as others.

In that example, it turns out the bill was being sent to the wrong agency. It was assistance for one woman for whom a county agreed to pay for a certain number of rides. Besides billing the wrong agency month after month, the amount of rides given exceeded the amount the county had agreed to pay for.

So, explained Silverio, he sent a bill with two years' worth of bus fares to a county supervisor. The bill for bus fare, for that one person, was about $8,000.

"Understandably, the [county] chairman was not happy," said Silverio.

He said he couldn't really blame him for being upset. Counties don't necessarily budget this year for expenses that were unknowingly incurred two years ago. The county and the agency will work something out, though it's probably not going to be for the full amount.

The goal now, said Silverio, is that "this will never happen again."

Yet in a way, whatever amount they get from the county is "found money" since it was buried in old records that weren't being reviewed. What else is in that pile? Silverio knows there's more. He's assigned staff specifically to dig through paperwork to check for helpful oversights.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark