Thursday, May 26, 2022

City Hides Medicare Excess 1115 Waiver Money

City of San Angelo financial documents indicated a huge balance for the Rent of Land and Building account.  The amount for the current fiscal year is orders of magnitude greater than actual rent.  I asked the city for information explaining the huge balance.

The City of San Angelo closed its sexually transmitted disease clinic in Fall 2012 so it could apply for Medicare Section 1115 Waiver funding.  The STD clinic reopened with federal money in 2013 and renewed funding in 2018.  The grant was intended to fund public health expansion, not replace local funding for a recently cut STD clinic.  City staff initially stated the STD clinic would not qualify when it became aware of potential funding.  Mayor Alvin New and City Council chose to roll the dice and eliminated the program with the hopes the feds would backfill.  

The City promised to restore the clinic but its reincarnation has been minimally staffed, even less than originally represented in the grant application.  It's rare for excess federal grant funds to be stored in Rent of Land and Building account.  The City used sleight of hand to get 1115 Waiver funding and is keeping that skill sharp. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Street Maintenance Mismanagement Fee

San Angelo City Council will consider charging residents a monthly street use fee of $6.75 in tomorrow's strategic planning meeting.  The fee would be added to resident's monthly water/trash bill. 

The street use fee could be used for an in-house mill and overlay crew.  This was the intent of the city's purchase of the Benedetti machine.  That project failed spectacularly.  City crews did a few thousand feet of paving prior to returning the machine to the manufacturer for a refund.  

A current street project is Rio Concho Drive, which had been "rehabilitated" using the Benedetti machine.  Public Works has a poor history of using its asphalt zipper equipment for street resurfacing.  The City of Fredericksburg borrowed the equipment several years ago to resurface a street.  At the time the asphalt zipper had 8 hours on it.

Also, the people who let city streets deteriorate over the last thirty years remain in charge.  Executive Director of Public Works chiefs Ricky Dickson and Shane Kelton were in street leadership jobs earlier in their career.  Both occupy a position that once required an Professional Engineer license.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived that qualification to promote Dickson, then Kelton to the top public works job.

Recent property assessments have soared upsetting residents as this is basis for city, county and school district taxes.  City staff should let these 30% higher appraisals work their way through the system prior to charging a street use fee.

City coffers have significant fund balances which are not included in the slides for the strategic planning meeting.  Those numbers should also be examined prior to City Council approving a street mismanagement maintenance fee.  

Update 5-24-22:  The Strategic Planning meeting has been postponed until next Tuesday, 5-31 at 3:00 pm.  

Thursday, May 19, 2022

ASAC Meets for First Time in Eleven Months

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee met today.  It was the first meeting after the death of ASAC longtime Chair Ryan Smith.

During the meeting staff shared that thus far it has been a light kitten season.  They attributed this to the city's collaboration with PAWS on Shelter-Neuter-Return.  

City Council approved $5,000 last summer to deal with nuisance cat collections.  Shelter leadership was to have an aggressive community outreach effort and report back to Council the impact of the special program.  These things are yet to happen.

The last time the ASAC had a quorum for a meeting was June 2021.  Eleven months ago the committee spent 60% of its time on Community Cats.  The group spent considerable time sharing erroneous talking points that included:

1.  The Community Cat ordinance was crafted by a special interest group for the sponsoring organization.

False.  Health Services Director Sandra Villareal served as the staff resource for the ASAC subcommittee that crafted the ordinance.  The committee had numerous community representatives and city legal staff assisted in researching and writing the ordinance.

2.  Villareal asked if more than one animal service organization could be a sponsoring organization. 

Neighborhood and Family Services Director Bob Salas presented the ordinance to council in February 2015.  In his presentation Salas said "I believe we have two sponsoring organizations, Concho Valley PAWS and Critter Shack."  From the get-go there was an expectation of multiple sponsoring organizations.

Critter Shack stepped up to do the work over the last seven plus years.  Concho Valley PAWS did not.  PAWS had a community cat survey on its website for the nearly three years.  It's still there as of today.

3.  Shelter leadership has not been able to communicate with Critter Shack on community cats due to a "cease and desist" letter.

Area rescues became overwhelmed when the shelter unilaterally stopped taking owner surrenders which had been between 1,500 and 3,000 pets annually during the period 2014-2018.  The shelter's response to people who could have previously surrendered their pet was to call area rescues and here's a list of rescues who may be able to help.  

Volunteer rescues had neither the people or resources to handle the work the city previously undertook, taking in 6-12 owner surrenders per day.  That is the reason some rescues sent the "cease and desist" letter.  

Six days before the June 2021 ASAC meeting Critter Shack contacted the Shelter Director and informed that person the "cease and desist" letter did not apply to Community Cats and that Critter Shack would be happy to meet with the ASAC, City Council or shelter staff on the program.  

The 6-11-21 communication stated:

I see on the next City Council agenda that there is an item that suggests that Critter Shack (an unnamed rescue that is the contact for community cat colony registration) has refused to allow our contact information to be given to community cat caretakers for information about cats or about registering colonies. While we did ask that shelter personnel refrain from giving our our name and number multiple times a day a year or two ago when these people were refused help at the shelter, resulting in dozens of calls many days for all of our area rescues, we never asked that colony caretakers who needed information about registration or advice be turned away. The many, many calls that we were receiving that were referrals from the shelter were primarily about dogs; I remember none that were requests from colony caretakers. We are fortunate to be able to offer some concrete advice and help for those people who are interested in learning more about TNR and we are happy to do so.

We are the contact for many caretakers who are actively practicing TNR, through our web site, through our low-cost spay/neuter clinic, through our partnership with Cassie’s Place for our West Texas Fix program that entirely focuses on cats, through our new voucher program, “Fix Your Critter,” and through our efforts in outlying communities to offer free or very low cost spay/neuter services to many caretakers. We deal successfully with hundreds of colony caretakers in the Concho Valley and any suggestion to City Council members to the contrary is simply untrue. We have an ever-growing list of caretakers and offer as much assistance as we possibly can to these men and women. Since the passing of the ordinance that offers some protection to the caretakers, our programs have focused on providing help to these colony caretakers and a large part of our annual budget is aimed at helping colony caretakers and cat owners in education, financial assistance and low-cost spay/neuter programs. If you or Council members have any questions about our caretaker registrations or programs, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss our efforts in these areas. The ordinance has been a step forward in protecting caretakers who are actively working with TNR and the cats in their care. 
Shelter leadership received this communication days before the June 17, 2021 ASAC meeting and made no mention of it, even after Dr. Victor Schultze recommended reaching out to Critter Shack one last time.

Our light kitten season, if it holds, is partially due to a long term effort by Critter Shack and its hundreds of cat colony caretakers across the Concho Valley.  It's sad that the most basic facts cannot be recognized.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

City Accounting Firm Revealed Federal Funds Increase


City Council heard from external auditors in yesterday's Council meeting and learned federal grants rose more than $10 million for fiscal year ended September 2021.

The 2021 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report had one weakness in the federal grant arena.  The report stated:

2021-001: Major Program Not Captured on Schedule of Findings and Questioned Costs Type of Finding: 

Internal Control over Compliance (Material Weakness) Criteria: 

2 CFR Section 200 requires that the Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards report all expenditures of the government expended in the year under audit. 

Condition: A major program was not included in the Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards and was identified as a Federal program. 

Cause: The Federal program was administered by the City’s discretely presented component unit and its applicability to the Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards was not identified until the audit was nearing completion. 

Effect: The original Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards did not originally include a major program and was not included in the original major program determination. 

Context: Because this program was major and has not been audited in the prior two years, it was mandatory that this program be tested as a major program.

The report did not identify the federal grant that had been omitted.  A public information request found the grant came from the U.S. Commerce Department in 2018 and provided $1.25 million in funding for Industrial Park infrastructure expansion.

It will be interesting to see how Council prioritizes spending the expanded federal grant funds as they plan for the next budget year.  The accountant said every federal dollar has to be spent for its intended use.