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May 25, 2011

Audit accuses OTA of inflated numbers, OTA says changes made

OTTUMWA — The state auditor’s office has determined the city’s transit system overstated ridership “by an estimated 50 percent,” and that the inflated numbers were increased by office staff on the instructions of Director Pam Ward.

The state audit, released Wednesday morning, also indicated documents showing rider numbers prior to July 2009 were destroyed by the Ottumwa Transit Authority. Auditors found “significant variances” between daily counts and OTA summary reports.

The ridership numbers are critical to the Ottumwa Transit Authority because they help determine how much money OTA receives from state and federal sources.

Ward flatly denied intentionally violation laws on ridership reporting and alterations to drivers’ timesheets. But she acknowleged the impact to OTA could be significant, saying the transit authority could be crippled if the state and federal governments seek reimbursement or withhold funds due to the ridership numbers.

City Administrator Joe Helfenberger said the city could not discuss the audit until it was released, but is now carefully reviewing what actions may need to be taken.

The story is still developing and the Courier will have additional updates over the course of the day.

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The Iowegian wants readers to think about the solicitation ordinance that will prevent groups or individuals from entering a roadway to solicit money. The Centerville City Council in June by a 5-0 vote passed the first reading of just such an ordinance. Public pressure and during a subsequent special meeting, the council voted 3-2 to table the ordinance. A second special meeting to discuss the solicitation ordinance is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7 at City Hall. So, the question of the week is, "Do you or do you not support the ordinance to prevent solicitation of funds in city streets?"

A. I support the ordinance
B. I do not support the ordinance
C. Not sure
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