An audit of Hempstead's Sanitary District #6 has found that the district's refuse collectors routinely work about 25 hours a week or less, but are paid full-time salaries, Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman said today. The audit also found that financial controls in the district were nearly non-existent, with no timekeeping for the district's 200-plus employees and no competitive bidding for goods and services puchased.
"District 6, with a payroll exceeding $10 million, does not require employees to use timeclocks or timesheets, even though their contract says they are paid on an hourly basis," Comptroller Weitzman said. "As a result of this and many other wasteful practices uncovered by our audit, the district's customers pay considerably more for garbage services than for local police patrols."
District 6 residents and businesses in 2004 paid an average tax levy of $798 for garbage collection and disposal; in the same year they paid an average of $620 for their local police patrols through the countywide police district tax. The annual cost of the garbage service per parcel (i.e., what the district actually spent to provide service, plus disposal costs), was even higher - $831 in 2004.
Comptroller Weitzman said, "It's hard to believe that anybody pays more for their garbage service than for local police patrols. Yet that's what we found in West Hempstead and the neighboring areas served by the 6th Sanitary District. Perhaps if the district had even a minimal level of financial controls in place, if it bid contracts competitively and got control over wasteful personnel practices, its costs might be more in line with other communities in Nassau that pay less than half what District 6 residents pay for the same level of refuse service," he said.
The Town of Hempstead's 6th district covers the villages of West Hempstead, Elmont, Franklin Square, Garden City South, Lakeview, Malverne Park and South Floral Park.
The audit found that District 6 management usually allows workers to leave after only four to five hours of work, despite union contracts that require it to pay an average hourly rate of $22 for a 5-day-per-week, 8-hour-per-day workweek.
"This results in an effective hourly rate of $36 for sanitation workers," the Comptroller noted. "I want to be clear - we are not blaming the hard-working garbage collectors. They have a tough job, and our audit did not find evidence that they don't do a good job. Rather, we blame a complacent management that allows such inefficient employment practices, in the mistaken belief that taxpayers don't care what it costs as long as the garbage gets picked up.
"I suggest that the district's commissioners and managers ask the taxpayers if they are happy to pay more than twice as much for garbage pickup as residents of Albertson, New Cassel, or Port Washington, to name only a few of the districts that have far lower costs," ComptrollerWeitzman said. "Nor can you defend this kind of inefficiency with the argument that other districts let employees go home at the end of their routes. Routes can be restructured to use personnel more efficiently, and hourly employees should be paid for actual hours worked. It's time for these services to be run like the big businesses they are."
Sanitary District 6 has approximately 240 employees. In 2004, its payroll costs were $10.6 million, out of an annual budget of approximately $19 million. The district collects refuse from 30,080 residential and 1,806 commercial parcels, providing curbside service three times a week, and pick-up of recyclables and yard waste once a week.
Among the audit's other findings:
The report is the last of five audits of independent sanitary districts to be released by the Comptroller. On September 8, Comptroller Weitzman released audits of Town of Hempstead Sanitary District #1 (Five Towns area), and garbage collection districts in Syosset and Port Washington. While Port Washington's service was found to be efficiently operated, significant overspending and lapses of management control were found in the other two. An audit of Town of Hempstead Sanitary District #2 (Baldwin area), issued on September 21, found millions of dollars wasted every year on administrative expenses, including unnecessary and overpriced insurance sold to the district by a no-bid broker and personal use of 11 district cars and trucks.
"The waste uncovered at these sanitary districts occurred because, prior to these audits, there has been a complete lack of public oversight of these operations," Comptroller Weitzman said. "And district commissioners and supervisors ran their operations as if they never expected there to be any."
The full audit report of Sanitary District 6 can be read or downloaded by clicking on the link below.