Months into a debate over who should pay to audit the troubled Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority – or if another review is even needed – the city comptroller now says his office will audit the agency using its own staff and will call in outside help if needed.
This despite the fact that BMHA and city officials say another audit of the agency is unnecessary and duplicative because the authority’s $45 million budget is already monitored by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority and audited by various funding agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides most of BMHA’s operating budget.
But Comptroller Mark J. F. Schroeder says his office's audit will be “broader, more comprehensive” than the one recently conducted by the federal government.
“We’re still looking at some point to get the assistance of an outside CPA firm, but we’re going to start with our own staff to get the process started,” said Patrick J. Curry, Schroeder’s top aide.
Schroeder says the city charter empowers his office to audit the BMHA, though authority officials say the charter is vague. But authority Executive Director Gillian Brown said that even if the comptroller can, "It just doesn’t seem like a particularly good use of resources when we already are subject to audits by multiple agencies and we receive no city funding.”
The one thing everyone agrees on is that the BMHA has some problems.
A recently released HUD audit said the authority has been skirting federal bidding laws and permitting apparent conflicts of interest by awarding more than a half million dollars to a human services organization headed by the then-spouse of the BMHA’s assistant executive director.
HUD's inspector general also accused the authority of improperly splitting up work into multiple small purchase orders in order to avoid having the jobs subject to competitive bidding.
Brown, who had headed BMHA in an interim basis from March until last week, says he is looking at agency-wide changes in the way the authority operates.
Still, the comptroller’s audit has been a long time coming.
Originally, Schroeder and Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen wanted the BMHA to pay for outside auditors at an estimated cost of $50,000. But it turned out that the city can’t compel the authority to pay for it.
Then Council Member David A. Franczyk suggested recently that Schroeder request the funding for the audit in next year’s city budget.
But the comptroller’s office didn’t want to wait that long “so we’re going to try to identify ways we can fund it as soon as possible,” Curry said.
The plan now is for the comptroller’s staff of CPAs to start the audit process within the next two weeks with a questionnaire focused on various areas, including:
- Payroll and whether procedures are in place for clocking in and clocking out, approving overtime and monitoring benefits.
- Revenue controls and whether the BMHA is collecting and safeguarding all of the rent it is owed.
- How work orders and other maintenance is prioritized and addressed.
- Are housing units in compliance with city and safety codes?
- Is the BMHA being charged the appropriate amount by utility providers, what can it do to save on energy costs, and is it heating vacant buildings?”
The questionnaire will serve as the basis for the subsequent audit plan, Curry said, and the whole process could take up to three or four months, largely depending on how timely the BMHA response is to the questionnaire and any possible additional requests for things like documentation.
Schroeder’s office has audited the BMHA before, including a benefit eligibility evaluation last year that found a dead person still being covered by health insurance because the worker hadn't been on Social Security's death list, Curry said.
The comptroller’s office will conduct a follow-up to the benefit eligibility audit to see if the BMHA has implemented its recommendations, Curry said, adding that the various audits the comptroller has done on the BMHA “will save money moving forward if they have the proper procedures in place.”