WILKES-BARRE – Several months after problems with record-keeping relating to fuel usage were first exposed, the city continues to struggle to account for fuel dispensed from tanks at the Department of Public Works building, records show.
Efforts to get employees to fill out fuel logs have been successful, but the city continues to show shortages in gasoline and diesel, according to tabulations made by Ron Trimble, the city's director of purchasing.
Since July, the city cannot account for a total of 181.1 gallons of gasoline and 87.6 gallons of diesel fuel dispensed from the pumps, Trimble determined.
Trimble began keeping track of fuel usage after a Times Leader investigation revealed the city could not account for nearly 18,000 gallons of fuel that had been dispensed from Dec. 1, 2011 to June 22, 2012.
The newspaper's report prompted an investigation by the state Department of Revenue, which recently billed the city for $25,918 after determining nearly 67,000 gallons of fuel, which it obtains tax free, could not be accounted for from July 2010 to July 2012. A criminal investigation also is under way by the Luzerne County District Attorney's office.
Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator for the city, has acknowledged record-keeping had been lax, but said it has significantly improved in the past four months.
Previously no one reconciled log books against meters which show how much gasoline was used. Trimble now keeps daily registers in which he compares the number of gallons reported on handwritten logs to meter readings on the fuel pumps.
Those records, which the city provided to The Times Leader, show 42 gallons of gasoline and 46.8 gallons of diesel were unaccounted for in July. In August, 44.7 gallons of gas and 28.2 gallons of diesel were missing; in September, 70 gallons of gas and 8.7 gallons of diesel were missing and in October, 24.4 gallons of gas and 3.9 gallons of diesel were missing.
The total, which equals 268.7 gallons, is far less than the thousands of gallons that were previously unaccounted for.
We are still coming up short, but it's significantly lower than it was in the past. We definitely are not satisfied with that, McLaughlin said. We need to have quality, accurate reporting on the manual logs.
McLaughlin said the city continues to stress the importance of filling out the logs, but officials are doubtful they will ever fully reconcile with meter readings because of human error.
In some cases the errors are understandable, he said.
A police officer could fill up with every intention of filling out the log, then he gets an emergency response call and forgets, McLaughlin said. With a system like this there is going to be a small percent of human error.
There are other instances in which employees were clearly remiss, he said.
Mayor Tom Leighton previously acknowledged that neither he nor Ken Pahler, a supervisor in the DPW department, filled out gas logs. After The Times Leader story appeared, the city investigated and discovered there were instances where other employees also neglected to fill out logs, said McLaughlin and Marie McCormick, city administrator.
For instance, McCormick said past logs revealed only sporadic entries for one of the city's garbage trucks.
We knew two packers were on the road. We looked at the log books and we'd see one packer was listed (as getting fuel) while the other was not, McCormick said. If both vehicles were on the road five days a week, you can reasonably assume they both had to fuel up at some point.
McCormick said that argument – that the fuel was used for city business – is the key point the city is advancing in its appeal of the Department of Revenue's citation. The city recently filed the appeal in hopes of getting the penalty reduced.
McLaughlin said the city is looking forward to the day when the handwritten logs will be eliminated. It recently contracted to purchase a key-operated electronic fuel-monitoring system.
It's not clear when that system, which is part of a $6 million contract to increase energy efficiency recently awarded to Johnson Controls, will be installed. McLaughlin said the entire project has been delayed to problems in obtaining financing.
The financing issues stem from the recent downgrade of the city's credit rating, which was tied in part to issues in disbursement of earned income taxes by Centax-Don Wilkinson.
McLaughlin said the city hopes to have those issues resolved soon. In the interim, Trimble will continue to monitor fuel usage.