Lax cash handling the latest problem at Mass Transit Agency

  • Cash sits unattended on a table in the breakroom at the mass Transit Agency in January. (Photo courtesy Hawaii County Legislative Auditor)
  • Almost $30,000 in uncounted cash sits in an unlocked safe in the breakroom at the mass Transit Agency in January. (Photo courtesy Hawaii County Legislative Auditor

  • LEFT: Cash sits unattended on a table in the breakroom at the mass Transit Agency in January. RIGHT: Almost $30,000 in uncounted cash sits in an unlocked safe in the breakroom at the mass Transit Agency in January. (Photos courtesy Hawaii County Legislative Auditor)

HILO — Cash handling at the county Mass Transit Agency was so lax, the legislative auditor can’t tell if any money is missing, much less how much.

In a 57-page audit sent Monday to the County Council, Auditor Bonnie Nims said the approximately $1.2 million that flows through the agency annually — most of it in cash — needs to be tracked better to ensure it all reaches county coffers. The audit makes 30 recommendations to tighten controls.

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“Cash handling internal controls at Mass Transit are inadequate and ineffective to ensure that revenue is properly controlled and deposits are timely and accurate,” the audit states. “As a result, we are unable to determine if cash receipts were complete.”

The audit says a surprise cash count in January found almost $30,000 in bus fare revenue, some of which had been there since July. Money was found in an unlocked safe and on a table in an unlocked break room.

“While money is locked in a safe and a locked closet overnight, both locations are left open and unattended during the day,” the audit said. “We observed cash left unattended on the breakroom table, the safe door was ajar and both doors to the room unlocked. This breakroom is accessible to all Mass Transit staff.”

The county immediately reconciled and deposited the money, the audit says.

Auditors tried to compare cash received to the number of passenger trips recorded by the contracted bus drivers by comparing the bags containing trip sheets and the associated cash that are turned in to the agency.

They found, in addition to cash shortages, cash overages, leading to the conclusion that not all passenger trips are recorded. It’s hard to reconcile the accounts, they said, because they don’t know how many trips were made.

Only 8 percent of the bags balanced to the trip sheets, with 29 percent under and 63 percent over.

The largest calculated cash bag overage ($199) was because no trip sheet was included with the cash; the largest underage ($212) was because no cash was included with the trip sheet. Auditors could not determine what happened to the cash from the bag with the underage.

“Due to the numerous internal control weaknesses, an ineffective bus cash receipting system, and the inconsistencies found during our count, we could not determine if all the cash paid by the bus riders was included in our count,” the audit states. “We were unable to determine if money had been lost or misappropriated.”

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who sponsored a resolution last year asking for the audit, said Thursday she was taken aback by the extent of the problem.

“We have known for some time that MTA is in poor shape but not the details,” Lee Loy said. “This audit is another sign of how serious the situation is.”

Lee Loy said the county should consider shutting down all but the most critical routes for a month to give the agency time to get back on track, what she called “hitting the reset button.”

“This temporary shut-down will create an opportunity for the administration to have the buses repaired, allow staff to attend training to implement the recommendations of the audit and the retooling necessary to implement the Mass Transit Master Plan,” Lee Loy said. “We need a system that the community believes in, addresses the community’s needs and trust that their money will not be wasted anymore.”

Best practices in ensuring safeguarding of county assets include physical security, timely deposits and reporting, independent monitoring, segregation of duties and written policies and procedures. The agency failed in the first four and had inadequate compliance with the fifth, the audit said.

Auditors praised the cooperation of Mass Transit Administrator Maria “Sole” Aranguiz, who took over in February. Aranguiz has been “open and receptive” to recommendations, auditors said.

“We are also pleased to report that Mass Transit has taken a proactive role in strengthening certain controls we identified as weaknesses during the course of the audit,” auditors said.

Aranguiz did not return a phone call seeking comment by press time Thursday.

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But in a response to the audit, she said the agency is addressing many of the recommendations.

“Although the MTA acknowledges that its internal controls could be improved, it has already begun to revise the procedures followed by its staff,” Aranguiz said. “The MTA will continue to assess it current policies and make the necessary changes.”

  1. Pest Outwest May 4, 2018 3:53 am

    It would be more efficient to just leave a permanent story open online, titled “today’s outrageous incompetence in local government”. There should be ample material.


  2. LOL in Kona May 4, 2018 4:12 am

    Pile of money sitting in the break room?
    It must be a “fringe benefit” for their cushy jobs.
    Of course, no one will be “let go” due to this,
    ,…..it is now their money, so, what the hey.


    1. volcanovillage May 4, 2018 1:21 pm

      bruddah….these county workers gotta have change for the coke machine.


  3. Buds4All May 4, 2018 4:51 am

    “approximately $1.2 million that flows through the agency annually” I am sure that number is higher!


  4. Graystash May 4, 2018 5:12 am

    The incompetence in Hawaiian Gov. just boggles the mind !! Almost every day some incredibly stupid issue comes up !! It NEVER ENDS 🙁 🙁 But ” That’s how we do it in Hawaii “


  5. metalman808 May 4, 2018 6:54 am

    Scammed as usual.


  6. DwnTwnMc1 May 4, 2018 9:42 am

    What a dump. I’d hate to see the rest of their offices. Start by cleaning and organizing the place.


    1. Graystash May 6, 2018 12:56 am

      A earlier articular showed the Bus repair yard, Talk about no pride in your work and just not caring about being professional 🙁 🙁 and yes I do know what I’m talking about.


  7. volcanovillage May 4, 2018 1:19 pm

    so, I suppose this means that the unions and county workers are going to Demand another raise for their exemplary service.
    Shut Hele on down permanently and Privatize this boondoggle is any other fools want to take over at all.
    The incompetence we taxpayers are getting is beyond absurd.
    Harry want to throw another 25 MILLION dollars at this rusty bucket of bolts.
    Shut it down…..I vote and every politician on the island right now looks like the loser exploiting greedy fools they are.
    Forget about raising taxes Harry…..you and the council members should be thinking about OTHER gainful employment.
    GIT!…..all of you.
    With friends like this….who needs enemies?


    1. kenmccabe May 5, 2018 9:27 pm

      agreed, definitely privatize… the only way to control costs and avoid mismanagement. Such short sided thinking to believe that shutting down for a month would fix and reset the whole agency.


  8. Big ideas May 5, 2018 7:18 am

    If the authorities are honest well soon find out one or more are stealing the money! County workers have little regard for taxpayers.


  9. Big ideas May 5, 2018 7:20 am

    Want change?
    Don’t vote for Dems.


    1. golfpunk500 May 7, 2018 5:12 am

      If the County Workers didn’t vote Democrat then they wouldn’t have there own personal “Piggy Bank” in the lunch room.


  10. Dave Thompson May 5, 2018 5:08 pm

    More “INOKEA”. not my job. Well, who the hell’s job is it?


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