The past few years for the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Waste Tire Management Program have been difficult, with the most recent being another critical Louisiana Legislative Audit released Monday.
Problems with the program may have also contributed to the departure of a DEQ undersecretary, Vincent Sagnibene, who had his appointment from the governor withdrawn in April after serving in the role for seven years, due to what department officials are calling “programmatic deficiencies.”
Under the program, a tire or mechanic shop that removes old tires from a vehicle collects a fee based on the size of the tires. Customers buying new tires pay fees of $2 for passenger cars or light trucks, $5 per medium truck tire and $10 per off road tire that go into a DEQ Waste Tire Management Fund. The used tires are then collected by another business that tears up the tires and sells them for DEQ pre-approved recycling projects, such as for fuel or playgrounds.
Once that end-use sale goes through, DEQ pays the processor 7.5 cents per pound of tires from the DEQ tire fund. The program has paid $71.1 million to six waste tire processors between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2014.
However, there still aren’t adequate controls in place to make sure the number of tires collected matches with the amount in pounds processed and paid for by DEQ, according to the audit. It’s not a new problem.
“It’s a program that’s had issues in it for several years now,” said Beth Davis, assistant director of financial audit services at Louisiana Legislative Auditor office. Although DEQ did address several other issues with the tire program revealed by the last audit, the program still doesn’t have a way to make sure they’re not overpaying tire processors.
DEQ responded that they started doing comparisons of tires received to pounds paid, but Davis said the auditors didn’t find that the resulting information was acted upon.
“We’ve recommended action on this for several years now,” Davis said.
The waste tire program was created by the legislature in 1989, and DEQ started operating the program in 1992 to keep used tires out of landfills and to encourage recycling of the material.
DEQ spokesman Gregory Langley said no one at agency was available for an interview to address questions raised by the audit. However, Langley did release a statement from DEQ that says the “department is currently in the process of making substantial changes to the waste tire program that will create substantial checks and balances.”
The statement also says that DEQ will have a meeting this month with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor to discuss plans to address concerns brought up by the report.
“DEQ is committed to addressing all issues raised by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor,” the statement says.
The inadequate oversight mentioned in Monday’s legislative audit and in previous audits may have led to the departure of Sagnibene. DEQ officials wouldn’t confirm the connection, but stated that due to “programmatic deficiencies” Gov. Bobby Jindal on April 14 revoked Sagnibene’s appointment as DEQ undersecretary for the office of management and finance, a position he held since 2008.
The same day, Sagnibene retired from his fallback position within the agency, Langley said.
Previously, Sagnibene answered questions about last year’s critical audit and wrote the department’s response to this year’s audit. Sagnibene didn’t return a call for comment on Monday.
DEQ employees found out about Sagnibene’s departure in an email from DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch that says, “Undersecretary Sagnibene has retired after an extended career in public service. We all wish him well. Since the position of Undersecretary is a gubernatorial appointment, filling this position may require some time. Departmental operations will continue as usual. I know that I can count on your continuing cooperation and support as we move forward.”
However, after questions were made to DEQ about the sudden retirement of someone who had been at DEQ since 1986, DEQ released another statement.
“Due to programmatic deficiencies, it was determined that a change of management within the Office of Management and Finance would be made,” Langley said.
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