New York State Comptroller Questions $14,216 in “Emergency” HVAC Purchases by New Rochelle Schools

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http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/schools/2008/new_rochelle.pdf

Interesting reading

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pages 10-11 are the section on Emergency Purchases. The Comptroller’s office cited the District for not providing specific and adequate guidance on purchasing services in case of emergency, purchases which totaled more than $90,000. In particular, the Comptroller questioned two non-competitive contracts for HVAC repairs for $14,216 where the only indication that the repairs were “emergency” purchases was the word “emergency” hand written across the vendor invoice. The Comptroller called the invoices “questionable” and asked why the District did not bother to even make a few phone calls to “obtain comparative prices.”

Emergency purchases arise out of an accident or unforeseen occurrence or condition. The circumstances justifying an emergency purchase must affect public buildings, public property or the life, health or safety of the community and must require an immediate action which cannot await competitive bidding. The determination of whether an emergency exists is a question of fact determined on a case-by-case basis. A written determination of the basis for the emergency and for the selection of a particular vendor must be kept on file. The District’s current policy states that in the event of an accident, emergency or unforeseen occurrence the requirement to obtain comparative prices prior to purchases may be suspended. The policy does not provide specific and adequate guidance on the steps to be followed when procuring goods or services in case of an emergency requiring immediate action.

During our review of 22 payments in the amount of $90,504 we found that two payments for repair of heating and air conditioning equipment totaling $14,216 had the word ‘emergency” hand written across the vendor invoice. The claims did not include a description or other indication of an emergency. The District’s purchasing policy would have otherwise required obtaining quotes for these purchases. Without proper documentation, it is questionable if these purchases were actually for emergencies. and that the need was so immediate, that it would not be in the District’s interest to even make several phone calls to obtain comparative prices.

1. The Board should award contracts to professional service
providers only after soliciting competitive proposals.

2. The District’s purchasing policies should defi ne the process for
determining sole source vendors.

3. The District’s purchasing policy should defi ne an emergency
situation and identify a District offi cial responsible to declare
a situation an emergency. Suffi cient documentation should be
maintained to justify emergency purchases.

Emergency Purchases

Recommendations

1 2 OFFICE OF THE NEW YORK STATE COMPTROLLER

4. District officials should closely monitor the purchasing process to
ensure that purchases are made in accordance with policies and
procedures.

9 thoughts on “New York State Comptroller Questions $14,216 in “Emergency” HVAC Purchases by New Rochelle Schools”

  1. some facts are required before passing judgement…
    As I am sometimes quite critical of the City and the school district I must say in this case the comptroller might just need some facts as this could prove out to be an emergency situation.
    Assume for a moment that a school heating system went down and there was concern about frozen pipes that certainly would be grounds for getting someone in on a emergency basis to remedy the problem.
    The danger of crying wolf here is in fact there may have been reason for this repair to be done in an emergenvy. Imagine if they had to entertain 3 bidders and while doing so it burst pipes causing much more damage and repairs. I would want more facts before I took the school district out to the wood shed on this one. Now if the facts don’t support this type of reasoning I am first one for making them look like they are favoring a friendly contractor. Some things are in fact urgent repairs and you don’t always have time to get 3 bidders.
    How about digging out the facts on this.

    1. Dear Political…point well
      Dear Political…point well taken. However the comptroller did not find any back up to substantiate an “emergency”. Typically, it is not the job of the comptroller to “go back” and ask for validation of said emergency. Maybe it might be a presumptuous thought on my part but I would think that the comptroller did not find enough evidence to substantiate an emergency after reviewing the bills.
      **as a little side note here, the fees/salary for the Districts’ Attorney really set me for a loop.

    2. District HAD CHANCE to provide support
      PF,

      The Comptroller provided a draft version of their audit to the District to give them an opportunity to respond to ANY concerns in their report. That the District failed to provide any documentation to support the claim that this was an emergency indicated that the District did not have any such documentation.

      We might also want to know why the District has two people on their payroll who are HVAC mechanics yet it was necessary to hire an outside company to do work on the District’s HVAC system. We already have one possible answer — that one of the HVAC mechanics was not coming to work.

      1. Agreed but what was the nature of this repair.
        Before I hauled them off to the DA I would want to know what was repaired. In many school districts and company’s for that matter they have employee’s who handle the day to day maintanance of boilers, water systems and HVAC systems. They are capable of minor repairs and maintanance for day to day things. Change overs from heat to cooling, filters, minor leaks ect. When something comes up larger they go outside their in house staff. This kind of thing happens all the time. So what I would want to know is what was repaired? When was it repaired? And most important I would want to know the districts claim and I would want to interview the personel within that building. Inclusive of the pricipal if it was a school that required the repair. After knowing this I believe we would have clear grounds for blowing the whistle or moving on to the next potential violation of public trust and dollars. Just taking the cart after the horse.

      2. Make a FOIL request
        PF,

        Send an email to the School District Clerk Liz Saraiva:
        lsaraiva@newrochelle.k12.ny.us

        Tell her you are making a public records request and you want copies of the invoices and any supporting documentation for the two repairs mentioned in the 2008 NYS Comptroller report. She then as 5 business days to confirm receipt of your request and another 22 business days to actually provide the documents.

        They can charge you 25 cents per page for photocopies. If the docs were in electronic format you can get them sent to your email for free but I doubt these docs are in e-format.

      3. Kickback??
        OR..possibly..that the company hired to do the work ALSO employs(ed) one of the Districts HVAC employees. hmmmmm

      4. What?!

        Do you mean that it could be possible for:
        a person that works for the district,
        (but not physically present while working for the district),
        to potentially be the same person who is employed by a company that is getting paid by the district to do ’emergency’ HVAC work?
        and that same employee could potentially be the one sent to the district job site by the outsourced company?

        Wouldn’t that mean that taxpayers are paying the same person twice for one repair? Is there a ‘double dipping’ epidemic?

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