City fiscal observer John Marshall Lee has engaged in a give and take with Finance Director Ken Flatto over expenditures in the municipal print shop. Lee addressed this subject in comments to the City Council Monday night.
Women and men of the City Council, let’s revisit the operation of the City Print Shop and its financial operation. City Financial Director Kenneth Flatto wrote to you regarding my last Council address on Friday past with his observations to Council President Tom McCarthy and copies to you.
First he questioned the source of my information and then said that the amounts referred to don’t reflect the way the shop works. Is it that simple? The info I used, comes from Purchasing Order records, available in the City Clerk office during the past six years. Purchasing Order records show the amounts spent by a Department over a year through Purchase Orders and from 2011 to 2015 the excess of those orders to Print Budget were $830,000 in excess of those balanced budgets. Chart is attached to my report for Finance to mull over, reconcile and explain to the public.
Monthly financial reports and purchasing reports should balance, be easy to understand, and be available to the taxpaying public in electronic and/or print form for others to peruse as I have until we have better check and balance practices and official watchdogs.
The fact is that the Print Shop is in the Finance Department chain of command. You reviewed their budget and their Mission Statement last year as did Mr. Flatto who is the responsible supervisor overall:
- City services were selectively provided to some citizens or groups without informing anyone else. To what purpose do you suppose? Those human, capital equipment, and paper/toner services were paid for fully by taxpayers. Why was public money spent on private work? Who authorized this? How long has this been going on? City Department records?
- Mr. Flatto can find no authority for the private business of the Print Shop. Why is this authority for what is a private and illegal practice, according to their own Mission, difficult to find? Is this subject worthy of City Council investigation on behalf of taxpayers?
- Finance goes on to report that outside work is a small part of the Print Shop activity, perhaps $15,000 in the recent year. But he quickly has doubled the charges for Shop services, though neither past nor current pricing takes into consideration the total cost of personnel, capital equipment and necessary operational items and services as a private printer would require, so Finance control of “costs” relative to “pricing” is not reliable at this time. Was any work done gratis??
- A glance at other Purchase Orders shows City departments making requests for printing services to private companies. I am researching amounts at this time. However, is there a policy, protocol, or process to be sure that any and all possible Print Shop services are used in house if, as Mr. Flatto answers me, “The Print Shop is of course only a City municipal operational service. The Print Shop does saves (sic) the City budget a significant amount through its much lower print costs (than if the city and BOE had to seek to print all materials outside by private printers) …” Why is there any outsourcing if this is so? When was the last time a study was done to see whether the Print Shop is as cost-efficient as stated remembering to factor in all personnel, fringe benefit, capital and operating expenses?
- BOE print orders are minimal according to info I have accessed, probably less than the work that has been performed for private individuals and groups. Should the names of the private customers and groups be released with the costs they have paid historically? Why should these be a select protected group going forward?
- The BOE may have a school-to-work program going on at one of the high schools that may be receiving some of the BOE work. Is it possible for all parties to back that forward-looking use of educational training with far less personnel expense to save taxpayer dollars?
- Where do the dollars earned show up in City records as Revenue? Why have they been unseen or unknown by so many for so long?
Does this activity, right under the nose and practical supervision of Finance Department create a deeper trust in City operations by taxpayers? What is the Council to do, without staffing to continue such research? Aren’t these questions reasonable as we face another budget season? Will you ask for and receive all the important and necessary baseline info you request upon which to make your decisions and choices? Time will tell.