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RVTD will keep closer eye on money

Some worry the district is in serious trouble, but others say it's a matter of process

For all their differences, opponents and supporters of Rogue Valley Transportation District's board of directors agree on the need for more scrutiny of RVTD finances.

However, they sharply disagree over the interpretation of recent budget information and over speculation that RVTD is on the brink of financial disaster.

Board member Ed Chapman said RVTD is exposing itself to potential legal action because of the way it prepares its books, prompting him to question its financial health.

I would love to have somebody show me that this is just sloppy bookkeeping, said Chapman, who is part of a recall effort against five fellow board members because they fired former general manager Sherrin Coleman. I am concerned that money is being transferred from one account to another without proper accounting.

Recently, RVTD didn't have enough money to pay its bills, he said. Owners of cab companies are asking why they haven't been paid, said Chapman.

He also questions RVTD's escalating attorney's fees, amounting to more than &

36;37,000 from June to October 2002. In September, the bill came to &

36;14,312 compared to &

36;2,655 in April 2002

RVTD Board Chairwoman Eva Avery said the payment of some bills was delayed about a week because RVTD hadn't yet received property tax revenues. She said the bills have now been paid.

She termed Chapman's remarks about the financial health of the district unconscionable, saying that he has the experience on the board to analyze RVTD's financial health.

If he said he has looked at the books and looked at each financial statement, perhaps he needs to read them better, she said.

Still, Avery said, the board wants to conduct an intensive audit of each account to make sure it's following correct procedures.

It's not that we think there is any wrongdoing, she said. It's simply that we have to have good procedures set down and follow them to the letter.

One area of concern has been Valley Lift, a federally mandated program that provides rides to the disabled.

Avery alleged that ridership figures for Valley Lift weren't being tallied accurately. Because of that, she said, administration of the program was moved from TransLink, an RVTD program that provides a shuttle service for seniors and the disabled and receives &

36;6 million of RVTD's &

36;12.8 million budget.

Administration of Valley Lift is now under the jurisdiction of RVTD itself, she said.

In order to oversee that program, we need an accurate statement of their rides, she said. We will still contract the service through other groups like the taxi companies.

Connie Skillman, a spokeswoman for the recall movement, said her group formed over dissatisfaction with the firing of former general manager Coleman.

But, she said, bookkeeping irregularities, excessive attorney's fees and the board's decision to bring Valley Lift under RVTD's control are additional reasons to support the recall. Recall supporters have so far collected about 3,000 of the required 6,810 signatures.

This recall started about Sherrin, but it's not about Sherrin, she said. All the things we've talked about are the reasons for the recall.

Yvonne Fletes, acting general manager, said RVTD borrowed &

36;780,000 in July to provide a cash-flow cushion that will be paid back through property tax receipts by June 30, 2003.

While a &

36;780,000 loan is larger than other loans Fletes can remember in her 12 years with RVTD, she said it isn't unusual to borrow money. Other government agencies, including school districts, also have to borrow money as a temporary measure.

While Fletes is concerned that attorney fees have increased in recent months, she said they won't break the budget.

Board member Susan McKenzie agrees that there needs to be more clarity in the financial reporting of RVTD.

There hasn't been disclosure, and that's at the center of the problem with the belief there are financial problems with the district, she said.

McKenzie said Valley Lift and other portions of RVTD's budget need to be audited to ensure correct accounting procedures are being followed.

Despite these concerns, McKenzie said, The financial status of the district is stable.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail