Hartford Begins Review Of Property Cleanup Billing Woes
By JENNA CARLESSO
July 31, 2012
HARTFORD —— The city has begun a formal review of records from its 37 private-property cleanups and of staff involved in the cleanups, said David Panagore, the chief operating officer.
The public works department has cleaned 37 private properties whose owners violated the city's blight ordinances and failed to correct the problems when notified. But the city's license and inspection department, which is responsible for tallying up the work and billing the owners, only has records for 13 of the properties cleaned. A department manager said he had not received information about the other 24 properties from the department of public works or the city's livable and sustainable neighborhoods initiative.
Panagore said Tuesday that information about four of the 24 remaining properties is on its way to the license and inspection department. In addition, he said, seven properties were verified as being cleaned, but the public works department cannot find the work orders for them; five property cleanups were falsely reported; two cleanups were reported as complete, but city staff wasn't able to get access to the properties; information for two others was submitted but the properties weren't actually cleaned; three cleanups were reported but no work was actually done in the field; and one cleanup was done by a private contractor, meaning it is being handled outside of the neighborhoods initiative.
Panagore said the five false reports were made by a neighborhoods initiative staff member who no longer workers for the city.
Jonas Maciunas, supervisor of the initiative, has been reassigned to the development services' Complete Street Program, a city official said. Panagore will take over as head of the initiative.
"We're looking through all of our invoices, files and reported cleanups to see what's there," Panagore said. "We're also looking at the process to determine where things could be sped up, or have better checks and balances."
The city also is examining its process for issuing bills on the cleanups, Panagore said. The 13 bills on file at license and inspection have not yet been sent out, even though some of the cleanups occurred as far back as five or six months ago, because of computer glitches and outdated invoice language, city officials have said.
License and inspection records showed that work on the 13 properties cost $16,936.42. But when asked by The Courant why some of the properties had been charged the same amount for different work, Silva said that the numbers had been miscalculated, and that the total cost should be $28,159.26. The work on the 13 properties was performed in January, February and March.
A review of the revised license and inspection documents Monday showed that the work cost $27,571.86 in total.
"It's inexcusable," Silva said during an interview Monday. "A member of the staff tallied up the numbers and it wasn't checked by [management]."
He said he hoped to have the corrected bills sent out this week.
Panagore said the corporation counsel's office must review the bills before they are issued. As part of the review, he said, the city is exploring whether its finance department should send out the invoices.
"We figured after six months, we were going to have a review," he said, referring to the neighborhoods initiative, an anti-blight effort that was started in January. "This has just given it more reason and purpose."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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