Scottsdale’s expansion of its taxicab voucher program that provided extra benefits for residents with a certain medical condition was done without the proper City Council review, an internal audit shows.
Since it began as a pilot program in November 2000, the parameters of the city’s “Cab Connection” program have never been reviewed by the council, other than to approve an annual budget that is now $380,000, the audit states.
In 2005, the transportation department decided on its own to expand coverage to give residents needing dialysis treatment 26 additional vouchers per month for cab service to and from a dialysis center. This was in addition to the 20 vouchers a month available for all users.
Councilman Jim Lane, chairman of the three-member council audit committee, said the changes in the program should have been brought to the council’s attention.
“When you start to have mission creep, at the very least, you should bring it back to the council,” Lane said. “This time it’s dialysis, but what’s the next one?”
City Auditor Cheryl Dreska told the Tribune: “This is a subsidy for personal transportation that by its nature is a policy decision.”
The audit also questioned the fact that more vouchers are authorized than can be supported by the budget, meaning the department is relying upon unused vouchers. For instance, the city issued 92,000 vouchers in 2005-06, with 38,000 actually being used.
Only once in the past five years did the program exceed its budget. The program cost $317,183 in 2004-05, above the budgeted amount of $300,000.
The audit also notes that the program has not been reviewed by the Human Services Advisory Commission, and there were 17 “immaterial” procedural errors, such as applications missing proof of residency or a signature.
Mary O’Connor, Scottsdale’s transportation director, said she believed it was appropriate to expand the program because it stayed within the budget approved each year by the City Council.
The program’s budget remained steady at $300,000 until 2005-06, when it rose to $320,850. That was the first year of the dialysis program.
The program’s 2006-07 budget jumped to $380,266. The same amount was adopted for the 2007-08 fiscal year that begins July 1. O’Connor said those increases are because of fuel surcharges levied by the cab companies.
Of the 2,800 active users of the program, 59, or 2 percent, are identified as dialysis users, O’Connor said. The actual number of dialysis vouchers used is less than 1 percent of the total vouchers, she said.
The cab vouchers are subsidized by the city at a rate of 80 percent, up to a maximum one-way fare of $12.50. Gratuity is also covered by the city. Users must be Scottsdale residents and have a disability or be age 65 or older.
O’Connor said the plan is to present an overview of the program to the council by the end of the year. The audit released last month was done at the request of the transportation department.