Panel continues to question Maine Turnpike spending

Posted Feb. 18, 2011, at 3:05 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 18, 2011, at 4:26 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative oversight panel questioning financial activities of the Maine Turnpike on Friday gave the toll highway’s administrators more time to document who received $157,000 in gift certificates the turnpike purchased from hotel chains and restaurants.

The Government Oversight Committee also took a step toward expanding its review to the Transportation Committee, which could advance legislation addressing findings in a report analyzing several years of turnpike finances.

Of the findings in the report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the $157,000 in gift certificate purchases in 2005-2006 from hotel chains and restaurants drew the strongest reaction from oversight committee members.

“These gift cards were bought by the Turnpike Authority, and they were apparently all given out, but they cannot tell us where they went,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the oversight panel’s chairman.

Katz said the authority’s funds are public and must be accounted for. He said registered letters were being sent to the turnpike authority and its senior financial staff “asking them to look a little harder for these records. To show us who got these gift cards and who spent this money.” The records are to be turned in by March 4.

Turnpike officials pledged their cooperation and noted that the gift certificates haven’t been purchased since 2006.

Spokesman Scott Tompkins said the turnpike has adopted a plan of corrective action based on the report, and many changes already have taken effect.

“When all is said and done, we will be a stronger and more transparent organization,” Tompkins said.

The OPEGA report covers six other areas in which it recommends improvements.

For example, it calls for better management of expenses, such as supporting documentation for travel and meals in all cases. The turnpike said it will update its policies to comply.

The report calls for more separation between the turnpike and its engineering services contractor, HNTB, with whom it has an exclusive, sole-source contract. The turnpike said it is addressing that by formalizing agreements with HNTB and parceling out more work HTNB has done to in-house sources or other consultants.

The Maine Turnpike Authority maintains and oversees the 106-mile Maine Turnpike from York to Gardiner.

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