When I took the oath of office as Mayor of Revere in 2016, among my immediate priorities was to gain an objective, unvarnished assessment of the City’s finances and the methods used to manage them. I believed that there was ample space to improve oversight, increase efficiency, and revise the ways the City used the revenue that our hard-working residents contribute to the City’s coffers through taxes and fees.
Accordingly, I commissioned CliftonLarsonAllen,(CLA) an experienced nationally- recognized financial consulting firm, to review and document the City’s financial activities and internal controls and to make recommendations for improvement.
As with any undertaking of this magnitude, this was a painstaking process that slowed a history of ineffective and outdated practices came to light. While on the one hand I wanted immediate information, I also knew that patience would be more fruitful.
CLA’s careful assessment revealed 86 separate inactive budgetary funds, going back as far back as 1998, with a combined cash balance of some $2.2 million. This was found money, unused and essentially invisible, like so many coins lying beneath the cushions of a municipal sofa. While a portion of the money properly will be returned to state and federal funding sources, some $790,000 will be deposited directly into our current general fund. This revelation, alone, justified the $50,000 cost of the CLA assessment.
The assessment also analyzed the City’s overall compliance with federal grant regulations, adherence to state procurement requirements, and conformity with Internal Revenue Service requirements regarding stipends and allowances. And the assessment scrutinized processes in municipal departments that handled cash receipts for fines and fees.
The CLA assessment helped me identify particular areas of city government that required closer scrutiny. Funding remaining from the total approved for the overall audit allowed further investigation into particular departments. While supplemental audits are planned for all departments that handle municipal revenue, the Parking Department became a prime candidate for immediate attention. Accordingly, I ordered an external audit of the Parking Department by the Woburn-based Certified Public Accountants Roselli, Clark, and Associates.
To my dismay, the Parking Department audit revealed nonfeasance, misfeasance, and possibly malfeasance dating back to 2012. To the extent that the audit indicated nonfeasance or misfeasance, I already have taken disciplinary personnel measures by placing two Department employees on unpaid administrative leave.
To the extent that the audit indicated the possibility of criminal activity, I have referred the issues to the police department and appropriate law enforcement offices with the simple but unflagging mandate: do whatever is necessary. I will have no further comment on that aspect of the matter until I am fully briefed by law enforcement.
Actually, to say I was dismayed by the results of the Parking Department audit is a grotesque understatement. The stark numbers were alarming. Parking revenues that exceeded $100,000 from 2002 to 2011–peaking at nearly $140,000 in fiscal years 2010 and 2011–began to decline in FY 2012, with precipitous drops in Fiscal Years 2013, 2014 and 2015 of some 120 percent. The slide continued: parking meter revenues were zero in the ten months preceding the department audit.
Some of the loss can be blamed on faulty equipment. Some can be blamed on lax enforcement practices. Some can be blamed on sloppy collection and accounting procedures. But it also seemed that commonplace-but-unacceptable excuses were inadequate to explain why so much money had gone missing. I am disturbed by the prospect that some of the loss can be blamed on more sinister pursuits. Hence my referral to law enforcement.
While Revere’s parking department withered, technology was advancing that made public metered parking a viable source of revenue that could be earmarked to enhance vibrant business districts. Comparisons with parking revenues in surrounding communities proved that our city was missing out on the benefits that a well-organized and efficient parking program can produce. The audit estimated, conservatively, that Revere could realize nearly $330,000 in annual revenue from modifications to metered parking prices and the installation of modern equipment. Not only are substandard practices costing the city money, but poor parking enforcement in the city’s business districts harms the small shops that depend on a regular flow of customer traffic to thrive. When one vehicle occupies one parking space for an entire day, a nearby business suffers.
The parking department audit was, indeed, unwelcome news. But it is the starting point to head in the right direction. It is now my objective to overhaul a department that has deteriorated steadily since 2012 and change it from a dysfunctional operation into a revitalized, modern, and productive model of municipal government.
Under the energetic leadership of the Parking Department’s new Director Jim Rose, who started in May, new meter collection procedures already have brought in more cash than had been collected in the previous year. A Pilot Program using new parking meters drastically upgraded collection procedures and accounting accuracy. Secure measures for the collection of fines at the Parking Department have been implemented.
I anticipate that before the end of this year, all the city’s parking meters will be “smart meters” that accept credit card payments and, eventually, payment through smart-phone apps. New meters not only will produce increased parking revenues, they will visually enhance the business districts. We also aim to replace and update signs throughout the city to clarify parking regulations.
Beyond that, plans are underway to reassign parking department enforcement personnel to make the most of their enforcement efforts. Controls are in place to eliminate shoddy collection procedures and inconsistent systems in handling appealed tickets.
When I ordered the overall assessment of the City’s financial operating systems, I suspected that I would might learn of outdated, inefficient procedures that cost our taxpayers and residents money. My suspicions were accurate.
But we will consider the negative news in a positive light. Not only did we turn up almost $800,000 of unused money, the audits provide a roadmap to new way of governmental housekeeping in Revere. Our residents deserve nothing less than modern, proficient, and effective government, and I gladly take on the task of adding great government to the list of all the other great things happening in Revere.
Brian Arrigo is the Mayor of the City of Revere.