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Boston — State Auditor Suzanne Bump and Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Commissioner Jack Murray today announced the findings of an audit and the resulting corrective action measures DCR is implementing to improve its management of long term permits and leases.
Aiming to improve its permitting and leasing operations, DCR requested in 2011 that the state Auditor review its systems to identify any deficiencies and make recommendations for improvements, where appropriate. The audit process has already led to the recovery of funds for the state, and new policies and procedures within DCR operations.
The audit reviewed DCR’s management of 394 of the 537 agreements with private entities, non-profit organizations, and local municipalities that make use of public land, which DCR manages for the Commonwealth. Auditors found that DCR was lacking a comprehensive system to manage its leases and collect lease payments. Audit findings included hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees, late penalties not being imposed, properties being used under the terms of expired agreements, and some properties being used without any formal written agreement.
In addition, the audit found DCR, contrary to state regulations, had not established fair user fees for some of its programs. For many permit types, DCR had not created a methodology for setting fair user fees or conducted an independent appraisal to determine fair market-based rates. In some cases, rates have remained unchanged since the agreement was originally executed.
"The results of this audit illustrate the importance of investing in systems of accountability," said Auditor Bump. "DCR's lease management staff has been gutted to the bare minimum over recent years, which led, in part, to the significant deficiencies identified in the audit. I'm encouraged by the changes that DCR has made even before the audit report was issued and by its renewed commitment to prioritizing oversight over its lease management program."
In her recommendations, Auditor Bump called on DCR to develop a comprehensive register that tracks all long term permits and agreements, to develop written policies to ensure timely fee collection and fair rate setting, and to collect all outstanding fees owed to the Commonwealth.
“The audit was a partnership with the goal of reinventing DCR’s permits and leases program and eliminating the housing program,” said DCR Commissioner Murray. “The first step in achieving these goals was to learn the scope of the program deficiencies and hear recommendations on how to proceed. With the help of the audit team, DCR has already collected in excess of $200,000 owed to the Commonwealth.”
In response to the audit’s findings DCR has collected over half of the outstanding fees identified in the report, and collection efforts are ongoing to reclaim the full amount. In addition, DCR is consolidating and organizing its user agreements, is drafting written policies and procedures for its lease management, and is developing a system to track payments.
Provisions in the state’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget has allowed DCR to increase the amount of staff and resources to be directed to the lease management unit.
The Office of the State Auditor conducts technical and performance assessments of state government’s programs, departments, agencies, authorities, contracts, and vendors. With its reports, the OSA issues recommendations to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), an agency of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, oversees 450,000 acres of parks and forests, beaches, bike trails, watersheds, dams, and parkways. Led by Commissioner Jack Murray, the agency’s mission is to protect, promote, and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural, and recreational resources.
Read the audit of the Department of Conservation and Recreation here.