Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Slams JTA over Accounting Practices; NOT FOLLOWING PROPER PROCEDURES Florida's Transportation Agency Says the Way Grant Money Was Spent Is in Violation of State Rules

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Slams JTA over Accounting Practices; NOT FOLLOWING PROPER PROCEDURES Florida's Transportation Agency Says the Way Grant Money Was Spent Is in Violation of State Rules

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has drawn the wrath of a second government agency over its spending practices.

The Florida Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General says the JTA failed to follow proper procedures in managing a $7.5 million public transit block grant that went to the authority in 2009 for its bus system. Half of that money came from the state, which is why the audit occurred.

The state says JTA put the money in its general fund, charged the state for expenses earlier than allowed, and spent the money on capital expenses like generators, in violation of state rules.

The report recommends the state consider seeking reimbursement of its $3.75 million, and also said the state could consider suspending future funding until the JTA establishes better accounting practices.

But FDOT Inspector General Ron Russo said that is unlikely to happen because the state prefers to work with the JTA.

"This is sloppy bookkeeping," Russo said. "We didn't find any malice coming from JTA."

The state will need 30-60 days to help the JTA set up new accounting practices that include segregating grant money from general revenue money, Russo said.

The JTA also is involved in a dispute with the Jacksonville City Council Auditor's Office over whether it has properly spent Better Jacksonville road construction money. The JTA argues it has spent money correctly in both situations.

"I do not like the way this looks," JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock said. "But I'm convinced every red cent has been expended for the proper purposes."

Blaylock said he believes the issue with the state is a misunderstanding, and said the JTA is compiling more documentation to show it did nothing wrong.

But if the state wants the JTA to do things differently, the agency is willing to be flexible, Blaylock said.

The state and the JTA entered into a joint participation agreement that spelled out how the grant money would be spent. The state alleges the JTA was required to spend all the money on administration, management and operation costs.

But the audit found that the money was spent on capital costs, forbidden under the joint participation agreement, said Joseph Maleszewski, director of audits for the Office of Inspector General. …

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