DADE CITY — Pasco County’s building department has a message for its bosses: We’re getting our act together.
Nearly six months after a critical audit showed the department couldn’t account for more than 31,000 commercial building permits over a 15-month period and failed to collect transportation fees on some projects, building official Esther O. Oluyemi told commissioners new safeguards are in place to try to prevent a recurrence.
She also offered an explanation for the tens of thousands of permits the department could not account for when auditors from the Pasco Clerk & Comptroller’s Office asked for documentation. Oluyemi said her department didn’t understand what data the auditors sought.
Oluyemi said the Building Department provided only permits that generated transportation fees in their sequential order and did not ask if the auditors wanted all permits’ sequence numbers.
In the future, she said, her department will do a better job to "make sure we’re both on the same platform.'’
The audit, released March 12, attempted to look at commercial building permit activity between April 15, 2016, and July 31, 2017, but the county’s central permitting office couldn’t provide a complete report. Approximately 29 percent of the permits, 31,164 of 109,673 issued in the study period, were excluded from the examination.
"Verifiable documentation as to the reason the permit numbers were excluded was not provided,'' the auditors noted.
The audit of how the county assesses and collects its mobility fees — charges on new construction to pay for transportation upgrades — came after the clerk’s office received an anonymous letter contending the county staff wasn’t properly charging the fees on commercial building permits.
The audit found no evidence of intentional errors but discovered instances where fees were not charged correctly and one case where the developer of a Dunkin’ store in Land O’ Lakes received a nearly 50 percent fee cut even though the owner failed to request an independent traffic study in a timely manner, as the county code requires.
The county said it was a mistake to charge a fee as if the store was a drive-thru, fast-food restaurant and instead categorized it as a convenience store/gas station. It resulted in the $121,562 fee being reduced to $58.892.
Commissioners, with Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. absent, accepted the audit without comment on March 12. Two weeks later, Wells asked for the follow-up report.
"We need to be aware of these things. We need to be as transparent as possible,'' Wells said last week. "They understand the mistakes they made and the opportunity for improvement.''
Among the changes, the county added a second development-review technician to assess transportation fees, which are now subjected to random audits each month.