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by Fern Shen5:30 pmJan 19, 20170

City falls short on rat abatement, recycling and pipe replacement, auditor says

A stinging audit of Baltimore’s Department of Public Works

Above: A tale of too few burrows baited, trash truck tickets stolen, water pipe replacement ambitions lowered and more.

The city agency charged with battling Baltimore’s rats, collecting its recyclable trash and replacing its old water pipes is failing to meet its targets in all three areas, according to a harsh audit of the Department of Public Works (DPW) released yesterday at City Hall.

DPW disputed some findings in the 15-page performance audit and had explanations for others.

“Rat burrow baiting cannot take place when snow covers the ground,” DPW wrote in its formal response to the auditor’s critical report on agency performance in 2014 and 2015.

Explaining why it could not produce recycling truck tickets for the Southeast Quadrant, DPW told the auditors they had been stolen.

“We were told the warehouse that stored those tickets was broken into and the tickets were missing,” the report said.

But overall, DPW acknowledged the findings and agreed to Auditor Robert L. McCarty, Jr.’s recommendations that it improve policies, procedures and record keeping. McCarty presented the audit at the weekly Board of Estimates meeting.

Pressed by Comptroller Joan Pratt, Solid Waste Chief Valentina Ukwuoma said some changes had already been implemented and promised to report back to the board on others by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Mayor Catherine Pugh also addressed Ukwuoma, saying that improving transparency and technology are important.

“We need to get that put in place immediately because we don’t want to establish goals that we can’t meet,” Pugh said.

DPW Director Rudy Chow, who sits on the Board of Estimates, did not ask or answer any questions during the exchange.

Rats and Recyclables

The audit’s first area of focus was the “Rat Rubout Program.”

In 2014, the city set a goal of baiting 60,000 rat burrows, but only baited 54,000. In 2015, the target was 100,000, but only 49,839 were baited.

Due to missing data and discrepancies, the auditor could not verify the reported amounts.

In addition to protesting about the impact of snow, DPW said staffing problems were to blame in 2015.

The institution of a proactive baiting program, designed for a staff of 16, was launched with only eight pest control workers.

“All additional positions were not fully created until April 2015,” the audit said, noting that at present there are 14 pest control workers.

DPW also missed its targets for tonnage collected from household recycling – this even after the agency allegedly overstated the tonnage collected because it included items not considered as household recycling such as recycling from schools, libraries and large businesses.

Some specifics cited:

• The 2014 target was 32,000 tons, but only 26,083, or 82%, was collected.

• In 2015, the target was 34,000 tons and only 27,941, or 82%, were picked up.

Disputing the finding that it overstated the reported recycling pickups, the agency said “household recycling does not exist” and that the term is “a misnomer.”

“Recycling is based on materials collected, regardless of the source,” DPW said, going on to note that the typical ton of recycling consists of 62% mixed paper and 17% mixed broken glass, together with aluminum cans and plastic products.

“All of these materials are collected together and delivered to our vendor where they are sorted into their respective commodities,” DPW said.

As for the missing truck tickets, DPW promised to “reach out” to its vendor, Waste Management, to try and verify the tonnage data.

The ticket issue remains murky in the audit, which criticized an attached police report, noting that it “did not include an address location or building identification.”

Fewer Water Pipes Replaced

DPW also did not meet its “linear foot” targets for replacing or repairing portions of the city water distribution system.

In addition, the auditor said, he could not verify the reliability of 2014 replacements because documentation was not available.

• For 2014, the agency repaired 60,303 feet, or 42% of the target of 145,125 feet.

• In 2015, 83,965 feet were repaired, 58% of the target of 146,028 feet.

DPW’s response: the budget books did not reflect that these targets were drastically revised downwards: to 53,170 feet for 2014 and to 78,337 feet for 2015.

“Based on the revised targets. . . DPW not only met its targets, it exceeded them,” the agency asserted.

Why were the goals lowered?

“Funding constraints after Capital Improvement Program Affordability Analysis was completed” was the agency’s terse answer.

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