AUSTIN (KXAN) - Dozens of businesses owe the Austin Police Department hundreds of thousands of dollars for managing crowds and controlling traffic for some of the city's most recognizable events, a KXAN News investigation shows.
Because of the questions raised during the course of the two-month investigation, the department has been able collect more than $200,000, or about 25 percent of the total amount due.
"That's a significant amount of money," said Assistant Police Chief David Carter. "We're talking about close to $600,000, and obviously that's money the department could use.
"So our hope is that people will take their obligation seriously and pay those bills."
Some pay up
Many of the companies KXAN News contacted about this story have paid up or taken steps to do so, like RunTex, who initially came in number one on the list of owing the most money to APD for security and traffic control related to foot-races the Austin-based athletic equipment retailer has organized.
"Sometime the bills might have gone to a sponsor, whoever was the title on the parade permit," said Paul Carrozza, RunTex chief executive officer. "And so as it got sorted out we had to go back and look at our relationship with the race, make sure we were responsible. And once that was confirmed then we were able to make sure we were responsible, and then we paid the bill."
RunTex has now paid APD the $102,117 it owed.
Outdated accounting, no follow-up
RunTex's response is the exception, not the rule. More than 120 businesses, non-profits and other entities have yet to make good on the debt to Austin police. But all the the responsibility cannot be placed on the those who owe.
KXAN's investigation was able to shed light on problems with accounting at APD that had been in place for years.
Many of the bills went to the wrong person or company, whoever took out the event permit, the investigation showed. For years, the balances were not collected because the proper group was not getting the bill.
There appeared to be no follow-up and no protocol in place for collecting the old debts.
One company caught up in that situation is Motorola, which ranked second on the list of owing the most money to APD. Motorola owed more than $80,000 for security provided at 5-kilometer runs in 2004 and 2006.
But those bills should have gone to Freescale, a company spun off from Motorola and which actually organized the runs.
After KXAN's investigation began, Freescale paid up.
"We appreciate KXAN bringing this matter to our attention," said Freescale spokesman Andrew North. "We were unable to find an original invoice for the services, so we immediately contacted APD directly and paid the invoice in full."
"The company regrets any inconvenience this might have caused the City of Austin or the Austin Police Department."
The invoice paid by Freescale totaled $80,518.31.
Jag Traffic is the next company on the list. It is $77,984 in the hole for traffic control projects. The company has yet to return calls from KXAN.
Questionable billing practices
Improper billing might also explain why Silicon Laboratories came in at No. 4 on APD's list of debts. Records show the company owes $43,950. The same could be said for Junior Achievement, which ranks sixth on the list. It is shown to owe $26,072, all related to to police services for the Austin Marathon Relay.
The public relations representative for the event says Silicon Labs' debts are owed by former event manager, RunTex. They also said Junior Achievement is contesting one bill, but has otherwise paid issued the police department a check for $16,386.
"Since this was brought to our attention last week, the Austin Marathon Relay proactively contacted the City of Austin on the invoices in question, and organizers worked closely with APD to resolve the issues," said David Swincher, race director for the Austin Marathon Relay. "According to an updated list that APD confirmed on May 1, the Austin Marathon Relay does not owe the City of Austin anything at this time."
The Austin Symphony Orchestra is on the list as owing $31,299.67 to APD. But Executive Director Anthony Corroa said the bills are a misunderstanding related to their Fourth of July concerts in 2006 and 2007.
Corroa said the orchestra does not owe APD for those years because the concerts were in Zilker Park, during years when the Orchestra had a deal that the city would cover the costs for security and traffic control.
"This was the deal. This was how it was worked out, and we were very grateful that the city was able to help because otherwise we would have had to discontinue doing the concerts," said Corroa. "Something fell through the cracks, obviously, and they didn't get paid."
That debt is also being contested.
95 percent success
APD overhauled it's pad-and-paper accounting system, and it now has a 95 percent success rate when it comes to collections. Carter says the department can still do better.
"Hopefully, everybody will satisfy their debt and their obligation," he said. "Basically it's not just APD, it's the taxpayers of Austin."
APD is now changing the way they collect on past due bills, and it could impact who is allowed to get event permits in the future. They will send out a bill every 30 days after the event - up to three notices.
"If, for example, an organization has a debt owed to us and has received the three notices, and it has gone to collections through the city comptroller's office," Carter said, "we're basically going to tell that organization that we're not going to provide police services for them in the future until they satisfy that debt."
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