The Oneida Vilas Transit Commission met July 26 to discuss, among other things, the progress on the independent audit of the OVTC ordered by the Oneida County administration committee in May.
In May, the Commission received a letter issued by the corporation counsel office in Oneida County stating that, as per the stipulations outlined in the Commission’s charter, an annual audit needed to be performed by an independent certified public accountant. The letter also stated it was in the administration committee’s understanding that the OVTC hadn’t completed an audit since its inception in 2016.
At a July 23 meeting of the Vilas County board of supervisors, board supervisor and OVTC chairman Erv Teichmiller said the audit had been recently completed and would be discussed at a OVTC meeting in August. The OVTC oversees Northwoods Transit Connections.
Yet, at the meeting July 26, an update by transit manager Roger Youngren indicated the contrary.
“We’re well underway with our audit,” Youngren stated.
According to Youngren, NTC office manager Barb Newman has “piles and piles” of paperwork which had been sent to the auditors, who paid a visit “a couple weeks ago.”
The auditors spent two days in the office, Youngren said, asking for documentation and asking questions about how the NTC operated.
“All I can report is that it’s well underway,” Youngren said. “And then, when they left our offices on the second day, his only comment to me was, ‘Hey, Roger, we’re gonna find a couple things. We’re gonna make a couple recommendations, nothing serious, I think you’re doing a fine job.’”
However, Youngren then mentioned the conflict of interest issues pertinent to the audit.
“There’s been a conversation with the Oneida County attorney, Tom Wiensch, directly with Brian Anderson, the lead auditor, about the conflict of interest issue,” Youngren said. “After that conversation, Brian emailed me and said, ‘We’re not lawyers. This is above and beyond the scope of our CPA.’”
Youngren said when he received the email, he forwarded it to Oneida County chair Dave Hintz, Wiensch, and Oneida County supervisor and OVTC vice chair Bob Mott, asking for guidance.
“I’ve had conversations with individuals about what to do, and I don’t know,” Mott said.”When we signed the contract, as I understand, they were aware that that was one of the things they were going to look into. And now they’re saying, ‘No, we don’t do that.’ Well, I don’t quite understand that.”
Mott said he thought it was “abundantly clear” and he had asked Hintz and Oneida County finance director Darcy Smith to look at the contract when the commission had signed it to make sure “when this whole thing is done” that their exact concerns were addressed.
“We thought that was going to happen with this, and now this comes up that they don’t do it,” Mott said.
Youngren said the auditors had looked into a “couple of items” of conflict of interest.
“For example, they looked at the lease, and how that’s handled. They’ve looked at the Holiday gas situation, and how that’s handled,” Youngren clarified “But there’s other matters that are beyond the scope of (what) the CPA can comment on. And I don’t know what those are.”
The issues with the lease resided in the fact the building in which the NTC leases space is owned by Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) Holding Company. Teichmiller is the principal officer of the holding company, serving as its treasurer and chairman.
The specific issue, then, was Teichmiller had been receiving checks at his home for the rent on the building.
Teichmiller had stated previously he received no benefit or compensation and the checks no longer go to his house.
Mott said he wasn’t aware of any beyond the lease and the Holiday gas issues which had been questioned, and he had only heard about the Holiday gas issue after the contract was signed.
Mott explained Youngren used to work with Holiday as a manager in Eagle River.
“I don’t know which individual, somebody in the county, has suggested that, since now we have a contract with them, that that’s a conflict of interest,” Mott said. “Only he doesn’t work for them anymore, and we got a better deal from them.”
“Much better than the county,” Teichmiller said.
Teichmiller said, in Vilas County, the commission was paying a higher price as well as an administrative fee.
Youngren clarified they didn’t have a contract with Holiday, but rather an agreement Holiday provides fuel to the NTC.
“The first 90 days that we entered into the agreement, we received a 10 cent per gallon discount, and currently, after that 90 days, it went down to 7 cents a gallon,” Youngren said. “So that’s what we received as a discount.”
Mott said they were “constantly looking for the best deal” and it wasn’t as though they were indebted or “contracted” with Holiday for years.
“So, if somebody else gives us a better deal, I think that one of the things the administration committee was always talking about is efficency, and doing things the most efficient way,” Mott said. “It seems to me that contracting with somebody whose giving you the best deal on gas is not a conflict, it’s rather something that we look to as a way to be efficient.”
“I think, at this point, we leave it up to the accountant and the Oneida County attorney, and see where it goes,” Teichmiller said. “I can well imagine that at some point they thought they could do it, and then decided this was beyond their purview. No, they’re going to have to explain why they can’t do it.”
Mott said if you looked at the “considerable” interest in the charter which said the OVTC needed an audit, that they’re doing the audit “as required.”
“Once that’s done, I think the report goes to our committee, then the county board, and we’ll let it go at that,” Mott said.
“Did people at the county have input on the contract with the auditor?” commission member Ed Hammer asked. “And they showed no concern about it?”
Mott said they did have an input, and that he had asked “four times” to make sure that the contract was what they were looking for.
“That audit will be, we’ll be dealing with this later in terms of scheduling our meeting, but they anticipate that the audit will come to us sometime mid-August,” Teichmiller said.
Youngren said the date for the formal report had been set as Aug. 16, but the preliminary audit would come to the commission “a week or so before that.”
“What I was going to suggest, Bob, is that we invite the both counties, if we decide on that date, invite both counties to attend our meeting on that date and receive the report formally with us,” Youngren said.
Mott said that would be fine.
“You don’t want a quorum of each county board,” commission member Chuck Hayes said.
After some discussion, the commission decided rather than invite the county boards as a whole, they’d invite the chairs and fiscal managers of each.
Teichmiller said they’d “deal with the date later” and moved on to finish the discussion on the audit progress.
“There’s one thing, that you mentioned, is that there were only a couple papers you couldn’t provide. Something from early on, is that correct?” Mott asked.
Youngren said it was and they had looked for the information.
“I ended up giving them copies of the checks that they requested and they were satisfied,” Newman stated.
‘Do you have any accountants?’
When the conversation turned to the update on the purchase of four new buses to add to the fleet, Mott asked if he could provide the update from the administration committee in June.
Teichmiller determined it was related and allowed Mott to read the minutes from the committee meeting.
Throughout the course of his update, Mott said the loan was discussed in tandem with the audit.
“‘Hintz questioned the bus upgrade, rides for the current buses and routes, and they reported they were tracking a few of the new routes to make certain that they are being utilized correctly,’” Mott read.
Mott also read there was a discussion regarding for a need for an audit prior to the loan being taken out.
“Essentially, there was some discussion about whether the audit had to be done to purchase the buses or authorize the loan, and we pointed out that that was not part of that.”
Mott said there was also concern about the audit at the Oneida County board meeting July 23, with discussion about how there will be “other decisions” made about OVTC and its “once the audit comes in.”
The board passed the motion to approve the loan for OVTC to purchase four new buses 16-3, on the condition Vilas County also passed the resolution and Oneida County wasn’t “in any way responsible” for paying back the loan.
“The loan for the new buses was also discussed at Tuesday’s Vilas County board meeting,” commission member Chuck Hayes said. “And I think the discussion was five minutes, Erv? No objections.”
“Passed unanimously,” Teichmiller said.
“The word ‘audit’ wasn’t mentioned. They just approved it,” Hayes said.
Teichmiller clarified there was a question about the audit, but it was “ruled out of order” as it wasn’t on the agenda, but he had reported on the audit as part of his committee report.
“Both county boards have authorized the request for us to go out and secure a loan,” Teichmiller said.
Hayes said there hadn’t been any questions about ridership or routes.
“Do you have any accountants on your board?” Mott asked (sarcastically).
Hayes said they did, as well as a retired banker.
“Interesting,” Mott remarked.
Over the course of June, the NTC conducted a ridership survey in which riders were asked to anonymously complete a survey regarding their experiences with the NTC, as well as their feelings toward the NTC and the extent to which they use the services.
Youngren shared the results of the survey as a PowerPoint to the commission July 26.
Though the survey was anonymous, riders were given the option of signing their surveys. Of the 130 surveys distributed, 77 were returned, 51 of which were signed.
The survey consisted of a short questionnaire scaling responses from strongly agree to strongly disagree, as well as asking county of residence, how often the rider uses NTC, age bracket, whether the passenger knows about NTC’s connecting routes and whether the passenger owns a car.
“Only 16% (of riders) are under 60 without a disability riding,” Youngren said. “So we definitely are catering to the people that we say we are.”
According to the survey, 76% of riders did not have access to a car and 76% of riders knew NTC provided connecting routs between communities.
“I think this represents us getting the word out,” Youngren said
Teichmiller said it was a “wonderful piece” he felt the Oneida County board, especially, “needed to see.”
Teichmiller said there was nothing in the report that was “critical” of the NTC.
“What I saw were a lot of positive things about the ways in which the transit commission has helped a lot of folks,” Teichmiller said.
The few negative comments the NTC received as part of the survey were limited to the lack of route availability after 5 p.m., and on the weekends.
Teichmiller also expressed interest in putting together a news release.
“I think one more thing is to get out this pretty positive report,” he said.
The commission discussed potentially delivering the ridership information to the county boards at the same time as the audit information.
“I think they’re expecting that audit information the third week of August since we’re going to have it the week before, I think that’d be a good time to show it,” Mott said.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]