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McCaskill charges DNR program wasted funds

February 21, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - State auditor Claire McCaskill charged extensive mismanagement and a lack of oversight by the state agency handling the state's fee on landfill solid waste -- including purchase of a $6,000 mural for a government conference room.

The 24-page report, released Tuesday, was conducted over a three-year period on the $2.11 per ton fee charged to solid waste haulers.

The fee generates about $11 million per year for the state's 20 solid waste management districts.

"We found some serious problems with the oversight of this program in state government," McCaskill said at a press conference.

McCaskill said the audit found "inappropriate administrative expenses" in a solid waste management district encompassing the St. Louis area. According the report, the district spent $6,000 on a mural on a conference room wall of a rented office building.

"I can't imagine a sillier use of money than painting a mural on a wall of a building the state doesn't even own," McCaskill said.

The study also found that district spent $1,871 on books unrelated to solid waste and recycling, $782 for gifts and $41,523 a year during a three-year period on a lobbyist.

"One would question why a solid waste district in the state would need a $40,000 a year lobbyist in terms of helping them provide public information about recycling and helping with issues of solid waste in their communities," McCaskill said.

McCaskill said a district which includes Camden County issued a grant of $54,000 over three years intended to clean up illegal dumping sites. The audit found only $4,641 was spent, and almost all of it ended up going to reimburse milage and administrative costs.

McCaskill said there was not a system in place to monitor revenue from the tonnage fees.

"In other words, there's not onsight inspections and audits going that would allow the state to have better knowledge as to whether or not the fees that are being paid actually match the amount of tonnage that's being dumped," McCaskill said.

The report urged the Natural Resources Department to get solid waste management districts to submit their quarterly reports on time and perform onsite inspections.

DNR spokeswoman Renee Bungart said the agency views McCaskill's study as an opportunity to stop mismanagement in the solid waste management districts and the department's Solid Waste Management Program, which is designed to reduce the amount of solid waste in the state.

"We are taking steps to address many of the issues raised," Bungart said.

Bungart said DNR has notified the four districts in the audit and halted further allocation of funds until all the findings from the report are resolved.

"The department will ask for each district to review the findings and respond to the department with plans to address each finding," she said.

The solid waste management district which includes Boone County, Calloway County and Cole County was not audited in the report.

McCaskill said her department could not go into every one of the districts. The report instead focused on districts in St. Louis, southwest Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks and western Missouri.

She said she thought the four districts were "a good cross-section" of rural areas and one of the most urban areas in the state.

"We can't say if these problems were not in Columbia, but we certainly shouldn't say that they are in Columbia," McCaskill said. "But clearly, the overreaching problem is there's not enough oversight going on in this program."