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GWP audit reveals issues at storage warehouse

An abundance of unused tools could go up for sale as the utility looks for ways to widen its tight financial margins.

December 26, 2012|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Glendale Water & Power's storage warehouse hasmore than $1 million in tools that haven't been used in four years, according to a recent audit that also found several issues with security and how products are tracked and stored.

When Public Works Director Steve Zurn took on his dual role of managing the utility earlier this year, he asked the city's auditor to do a top-down review of Glendale Water & Power's warehouse.

“It was just done differently than what I had expected,” Zurn said. “I feel much more comfortable with tighter reigns.”

Part of getting a tighter grip will include limiting who can get which tools and when — basically adding more controls to a decentralized process following the audit released earlier in December.

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In October, the city auditor found that Glendale Water & Power employees purchased several tools at hardware stores, even when the items were available in storage. Zurn, though, attributed the overlap to convenience more than issues with warehouse procedures. But even there, auditors found discrepancies. In a sampling of 22 items on a warehouse register, for example, auditors found that there was a $195,000 difference in what was listed and what was actually in storage.

Since the October audit, Zurn has taken away dozens of employee credit cards and implemented a new purchase request system.

Zurn said he'd like to sell off the unused warehouse items — which include wires, gloves, valves, meters and other tools — and generate some extra income for a utility that has been operating on razor-thin financial margins. The unused items make up about one-sixth of the warehouse's total $6-million inventory.

Years ago, the Public Works Department sold off their unused tools, often to the vendor they were originally purchased from.

“We went through a process and sold virtually all of the stuff,” Zurn said.

Auditors also noted that the aged facility doesn't have proper fire protection and access restrictions are lax.

“The use of a universal key for access to a storage shed containing valuable copper cable is an example of the weak security efforts,” the audit stated.

Metal theft — including copper cables — has become such a problem in the state, Sacramento lawmakers have passed new bills to curb the problem.

Fire alarm systems are to be installed as money is available for the $50,000 expense, and the utility, which has video systems monitoring the warehouse areas, will examine the cost of additional security by June. Most of the other issues are slated to be fixed by the end of the month.

The changes come as Glendale Water & Power struggles to manage tight financial margins. The utility has limited its capital improvements this year to just the necessities and the water side of the department still owes the electricity side nearly $11 million.

The City Council raised water rates over four years in order to erase that debt as well as increase revenues.

After the municipal elections in April, the City Council is expected to rule on an electricity rate increase.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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