Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where does your money go? Part Two

Can this affect our property taxes? Of course!

In many previous posts, I have advocated for a scrutiny of our local governments.

Our property taxes have not decreased substantially, and have even increased sometimes, in spite of the crashing reductions of real estate values.

Our cities and counties tenaciously oppose every move in the sense of controlling their budgets. Property values go down? They raise their “millage” (tax percentage applied on the property value to determine the actual tax.) Tax reduction mandates? No problem, they start charging for previously free services, or increase their present fees.

If they were half as diligent in spending our money, as they are charging us, perhaps we could avoid these excesses.

I read this in the South Florida Business Journal – Nov. 11, 2008:

Wackenhut billings come under scrutiny in Broward

Broward County auditors are raising red flags over how county agencies kept tabs on nearly $6 million in billings by Wackenhut Corp. for security services last year.

In a report to be presented to county commissioners on Wednesday, county auditors noted several problems with the way Wackenhut invoices have been processed.

Specifically, the report noted that county personnel were not reviewing and validating daily entries on security logs that document hours worked by guards. The audit also found that there was no evidence that hours billed were hours actually worked.

County Auditor Evan A. Lukic said the decision to review the county’s oversight of Wackenhut grew out of news reports earlier this year that alleged the Palm Beach Gardens-based security company was overbilling Miami-Dade County for services that were not performed.

“We were concerned about the allegations we heard and whether we were possibly experiencing the same thing here,” he said. “We wanted to look at it from how are we controlling the contract and administering it.”

At this point in the auditing process, Lukic said, there was no evidence Wackenhut engaged in any wrongdoing. However, based on the audit’s findings Lukic said his department will take a closer look at payments to “make sure that guards who we are paying for are present.”

In June 2005, Broward County entered into a three-year agreement with Wackenhut to provide security services. Payments for fiscal years 2005, 2006 and 2007 totaled more than $14.8 million.

In fiscal 2007, Broward County’s Aviation Department topped the list with $2.1 million in security services billings by Wackenhut. The county’s facilities maintenance division paid out $1.66 million to Wackenhut, and the county’s library division was billed nearly $633,000.

The report found that during a one-week period, the libraries division paid 233 hours of overtime for security guards and found no evidence that Wackenhut provided the required written notification and payroll documentation to substantiate the overtime payments.

When queried by the South Florida Business Journal about the auditor's findings, Wackenhut issued the following statement: "We've worked closely with facilities management through the audit department to insure compliance and to improve our processes."

Questions also have been raised about matching guard qualifications to pay rates. In some instances, the audit raised concerns about guards with lesser qualifications billing at a higher rate, resulting in overcharges.

In an Aug. 22 letter, Broward’s director of the facilities maintenance division advised Wackenhut President Drew Levine that he would now require the company to provide documentation that links guards’ qualifications with their job classifications.

In the meantime, Lukic is asking the Broward County Commission to direct the county administrator to come up with procedures to ensure that billings are validated, that the guards’ qualifications match their job descriptions and that overtime charges are substantiated.

In May, a Miami-Dade County audit found that Wackenhut overbilled the county by as much as $6 million over three years for services it did not provide to Miami-Dade Transit, and then falsified records to cover up the over charges.

In its response to that audit, which Wackenhut published on its Web site, the company said it has cooperated with the county’s investigation, but “continues to question the audit methodology.”

Wackenhut said a lawsuit by a former guard, who accused the company of padding its bills, has caused the increased scrutiny.

“It is Wackenhut’s belief that county entities … have been placed under undue pressure and influence by unsubstantiated allegations in this ongoing disputed litigation,” it stated.

Miami-Dade continues to review Wackenhut’s response to determine what actions should be taken, county spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said.


My opinion:

Wackenhut has the audacity of "questioning" the “audit methodology”. Am I understanding this? Of course not. Am I agreeing to this? Of course not. Do I believe the hypocritical “findings” of the Miami-Dade and Broward County authorities three years after the facts? No way. Now that the money has been spent, they "discover" that the services they paid for were not even provided. And we are talking millions of dollars. What about all these people we are paying to take care of our money? Good question.

By the way, how many millions will this Marlins stadium cost the tax payer? Was it 800 million, 700, 900, a billion? God knows. And we will know in a few years, after the bills are paid and we find again ourselves in a big hole. But don’t worry, they will find a way of raising money to cover it all. Your money. And my money too; subsidizing a business, which market value will increase exponentially after they get their free stadium.

Henry B. Nathan is a Florida Realtor at United Realty Group Inc.Visit my website: you can search for Aventura Condos, Florida Condos,

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