More than 100 audit recommendations that could save Berkeley hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue annually have yet to be implemented, City Auditor Jenny Wong revealed at Tuesday evening’s regular Berkeley City Council meeting.
Of the 107 audit recommendations that have accumulated over the last nine years, only one-third have been partially implemented, Wong disclosed in her quarterly summary report. There has been no progress made on the bulk of these recommendations since they were initially proposed, Wong said at the meeting.
Wong acknowledged that the delay in implementation is understandable for more recently issued audits and said she sympathizes with the city staff for prioritizing other tasks they’re responsible for. She stressed, however, that “the recommendations cannot be ignored” and that they are necessary to support the city’s goal of having an efficient and financially healthy government.
A prime focus of Wong’s report was potential revenue-generating recommendations. District 7 Councilmember Rigel Robinson lauded Wong’s findings, stating that “there are significant revenues that the city is missing out on because of our failure to implement various key audit recommendations.”
One of the measures Wong proposes is the collection of pending ambulance bills. From 2006 to 2016, Berkeley failed to collect $23 million in ambulance fees — the city received payments only from patients who paid of their own volition, and it did not enforce collection. Wong recommended that, going forward, ambulance bills should be scaled to the “residents’ ability to pay,” adding that all debt cannot be collected because the city needs to account for those who cannot afford the bills.
To create the new payment system, the city partnered with a billing provider but has neither developed an outreach plan to contact patients nor pursued bill collection by contracting an external collection agency.
The second notable recommendation yet to be enacted concerns “delinquent accounts for business license taxes,” Wong said at the meeting. Business license taxes require local companies to annually pay to operate at each of their locations in the city, and Wong said “collection efforts could generate an additional $90,000” in revenue annually if the city were to complete the recommendation.
Wong added at the meeting that an auditor’s job goes beyond identifying problems and is to ensure that “improvements and changes have been made.” In order to do this, Wong, working alongside various city department heads, plans to prioritize the high-risk recommendations, identify the steps needed to implement them and create a timeline for the process.
While Wong said there is no opposition from the departments to enacting these recommendations, some proposals do not have priority and may, therefore, take a longer time to implement. Wong said her goal is to come back in October with an update for how the city manager and department staff implemented these recommendations.
“Our office can make loads of recommendations, but if action isn’t taken, it does not do anyone any good,” Wong said.