Audit: ‘Pennies’ road program earns positive marks

jzou@heraldonline.comMay 5, 2014 

— The results of an independent analysis evaluating York County’s road improvement program revealed a billing error and suggested some “best practice” recommendations but returned an overall positive review of the program’s management.

“The county appears to be managing the Pennies for Progress program effectively and efficiently,” read a portion of the five-page summary provided to County Manager Bill Shanahan and the County Council. Shanahan and council members met Monday night but didn't discuss the audit during the meeting.

The audit was completed by Maudlin-based Greene, Finley & Horton – the same accounting firm retained by the county for an independent fiscal audit earlier this year – at a cost of $15,000.

Pennies for Progress is a referendum-based program that collects a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for new roads in York County. The audit sampled 13 of the program’s projects that accounted for $52 million in funding and suggested that the county consider hiring an additional project coordinator to oversee the program.

Shanahan raised the need for a comprehensive review of the program – the first of its kind since Pennies began in 1997 – in mid-December, just weeks after the cost of a downtown Rock Hill project ballooned by 55 percent. The audit firm was officially retained for the review in March.

The council reluctantly signed off on a request for a $3.2 million funding boost for White Street improvements after staff failed to account for $1.5 million in design costs in 2009 and an additional $1.8 million was needed to cover unforeseen costs. According to program director Phil Leazer, the clerical error went unnoticed until late 2013.

The project also was one of 13 selected for review. Auditors noted that county staff erred in 2009 when they did not provide accurate budget information to the council and to the city of Rock Hill, which is managing the project on behalf of the county and receives reimbursed funds.

The review also found that the county was double-billed for nearly $141,000 while reimbursing Rock Hill for utility relocation in the White Street project. County staff were notified of the error during the audit and were able to correct it, according to Shanahan.

“I’m glad it was caught and corrected, “ said council chairman Britt Blackwell, who said after Monday's meeting he was “100 percent” supportive of hiring outside help to manage the massive road program. “You can always find ways to do better.”

Auditors recommended that the county consider closer tracking of project progress and foster more efficient coordination with other entities such as the state Department of Transportation, which is a frequent partner.

Reviewers noted that in the case of a Cherry Road project in Rock Hill, which was managed by an outside group, “no clear delineation of responsibility could be identified, and the Pennies program paid for the error at a cost of approximately $312,000.”

Leazer had previously noted that projects under Pennies usually take several years to complete, making tracking difficult.

On Friday, the county was notified that it would be responsible for nearly $115,000 to the Fort Mill school district after a Pennies contractor missed a May 1 deadline to complete a section of Doby’s Bridge Road. The contractor will pay the full fee, but the county will have to act as a conduit for the funds.

Other projects reviewed in the audit included a half-mile connector to ease congestion in Fort Mill that came with a $7.4 million price tag.

Shanahan said the county is still in an evaluation phase for figuring out the best route to take when it comes to hiring any additional consultants for the Pennies program.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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