Riverhead's municipal garage. File photo: Peter Blasl

The town garage’s operations were a “free for all” under its former department head, according to an internal audit report, with no supervision over garage employees, who were found to have purchased parts for personal vehicles with town discounts and performed private repairs at the town garage.

An audit of the town garage that spanned 18 months found that the garage had “no oversight” under former sanitation superintendent John Reeve, who retired at the end of 2014.

“There is no management,” Jack Orben, a member of the audit committee, told town board members on Thursday. “If the mechanic decides he needs the part, there’s nobody to call and ask, ‘Do you think I should get it here or there?’ He just goes and gets it.

“There’s simply no accounting for the time that people spend there,” Orben said.

The town garage is located on Route 58 and employs three mechanics, who complete all repairs on town vehicles and police cars. There is also an impound yard located behind the facility, which stores impounded vehicles and out-of-service town vehicles.

The audit, prepared by the town audit committee, found that there was no supervisor to review repair orders, to make sure any parts purchased were priced reasonably or to hold employees accountable for the labor hours they would charge to repair orders.

“Repairs would take an extraordinary amount of time, exceeding the industry standard book rate,” said Charlene Kagel, the town’s independent internal auditor and member of the audit committee. “For example, one repair with a book rate of six hours took 17 hours to complete.”

That may be because there are no standard policies in place at the town garage. Each town department is required to have a policy and procedure manual, and they are required to review it with staff. But the single copy of the town garage’s policy and procedure manual is “rather ancient,” Kagel said, with handwritten notes that have been scrawled across its pages over the years.

“If you ask the three people that work there if they’re aware of a policy and procedure manual, the answer is no,” Kagel said. “So it’s not unreasonable to expect that the folks who are working there don’t really understand what’s expected of them.”

The garage also had no security in place until the engineering department took over last January following Reeve’s retirement. Beginning in January 2015, employees have been required to arm and disarm the alarm system, but prior to that the garage was completely insecure, Kagel said.

There are still no security cameras, and the impound yard in the rear of the garage does not have any security system in place.

“There have been instances of theft of property where access was gained by cutting a hole in the fence,” Kagel said.

Town garage employees were also found to purchase parts for personal vehicles with the town’s discount at local dealers. They also completed private repairs at the town garage – not with town parts or on town time, but using the town’s facility and receiving private compensation for the work. Both of these practices have stopped since the engineering department took over last year.

But the engineering department has not had the time or the resources to properly oversee management of the garage, according to the audit.

“The engineering department has a lot to do, and the municipal garage is not really close to the top of that list,” Orben said.

They recommended promoting one of the town’s three mechanics to a supervisor position to provide oversight to the other employees. They also recommended tightening security around the garage, including the installation of security cameras and a regular review of the alarm company’s report of who is going in and out of the facility.

Councilman John Dunleavy said today the town board is looking to hire a supervisor and has posted the job internally as per its collective bargaining agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association.

“We definitely do need a supervisor there,” Dunleavy said. If one of the current mechanics is made supervisor the town would need to hire another mechanic for the garage, which he said handles repairs and maintenance for some 200 vehicles.

Dunleavy said many of the things mentioned by the audit committee have already been addressed by the board.

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Katie Morosky
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie