Fort Worth

City audit critical of ledger and inventory discrepancies at auto pound

Vehicles in the Fort Worth’s auto pound. The Police Department is considering outsourcing some of the pound’s operations.
Vehicles in the Fort Worth’s auto pound. The Police Department is considering outsourcing some of the pound’s operations. Star-Telegram archives

The Fort Worth Police Department is looking into outsourcing some of its auto pound operations.

Capacity at the impound lot, at 2500 Brennan Ave., has been cut in half — to about 11 acres — and it now can hold only about 1,000 cars. As a result, only cars involved in a police investigation are being towed there.

And it may stay that way, according to Bill Sterner, the department’s fleet manager, who oversees the auto impound division.

“That evaluation is being conducted now,” Sterner said in an email. “We would still have pound operations, but only for police investigative/evidentiary tows. We are currently reviewing a hybrid model rather than a total outsource.”

The other half of the auto pound lot was turned over by the city for the Trinity River Vision economic development and flood control project. The land is a former landfill on the north bank of the West Fork of the Trinity.

Sterner’s comments come after an internal performance audit of the pound’s operations released in late December found areas that need improving. Among those, the audit calls for closing the pound lot for releasing cars overnight because so few people claim their cars then. On average, it’s one a night, the audit said.

The city is not required to release vehicles 24 hours a day under state law, the auditors said. But pound managers were under the impression because they accepted cars 24 hours a day, they had to release them as well.

Sterner, though, said closing overnight is unlikely to happen, since the lot has to be open for cars to be towed in.

“The releases are indeed infrequent, but we are required to have staff present to escort the investigative tows to the lot,” Sterner said.

The pound takes in about 1,000 vehicles monthly and releases about 800, the audit said. An owner pays about $225 to get a car back.

Austin, Arlington, Garland, Houston, Mansfield and San Antonio outsource their auto pound operations, the report said.

The audit report, covering the pound’s operations from Oct. 1, 2014 to March 31, was critical of how the city staff reports and handles money from car auctions. It also said that inventory records didn’t provide a true number of vehicles in storage and that cars eligible for auction after 30 days were being held an average of 202 days before being sold, which the report said “is unreasonable.”

“The audit also said that we processed some 23,000 vehicles but did not make mention that our average lot time for impounded cars is less than three days,” Sterner said. “Previous practice was to hold the vehicles on the lot until we had enough to make an auction and continue to hold them while they were advertised via an online auction vendor. Our current practice does not involve retaining auction vehicles at our impound location.”

In one example of improper records, the city’s purchasing department deposited 21 checks from an auction company totaling more than $1.8 million, yet the general ledger showed only $671,425, the audit report said.

The report called for monthly reconciliation of its books as well as taking better inventory of the cars. In some cases, inventory control numbers assigned to a vehicle do not match inventory records, the audit report said.

While Sterner said improved inventory measures are being implemented, he questions the accuracy of the audit because it references figures from time periods other than the stated 2  1/2 years .

“This raises questions of the dependability and focus of the audit, seems they veered from their scope and original objective,” he said. “Did they have a clear objective or did they find their objective after they started the audit? If they can’t stay within the time frame, how can we be sure that the data is accurate.”

The city auditor reports directly to the mayor and City Council.