New state audit questions monorail board's practices
A new state audit highlights the Seattle Monorail Project's tight financial situation, saying the agency may be "more leveraged" than other...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A new state audit highlights the Seattle Monorail Project's tight financial situation, saying the agency may be "more leveraged" than other government agencies because of unusually high debt-to-income ratio.
The report, issued yesterday, also accused the SMP board of making a decision to lobby state legislators without first taking a public vote and giving inaccurate explanations for some closed sessions.
The annual audit issued no formal findings of noncompliance with state law.
State Auditor Brian Sonntag issued the report ahead of a Thursday deadline imposed on SMP by Mayor Greg Nickels to produce a ballot measure to shorten the 14-mile line or raise taxes.
Instead, monorail leaders will try to show they are improving on a discarded proposal that required at least 50 years of tax to pay $11.4 billion in principal and interest on a $2.1 billion line.
According to the report:
• Without a public vote, SMP lobbied for a bill allowing bonds to be sold for terms of more than 40 years. Eight board members were individually briefed and consented, "but the Board did not make that decision in an open public meeting as required by law," the audit said. The bill failed.
• Two $50,000 contracts for architectural and engineering services were awarded without advertisements and evaluations. SMP said the firms qualified for an exemption.
• Auditors questioned $59,534 paid to artists without detailed invoices.
• The agency spent $11,500 on a parade float; auditors called it inconsistent with the purpose of building a monorail.
The report says the expected debt of $1.8 billion in today's dollars is 31 times the SMP's annual income — more than double the debt ratio for Seattle and King County. It also noted the monorail expects collections from its car-tab tax to rise an average 6.1 percent a year, faster than what Sound Transit is counting on.
Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the mayor's office is "very concerned about the revenue growth factor of 6.1 percent. That continues to be a very high assumption, higher than any other economist has given so far."
SMP spokeswoman Natasha Jones said Sonntag included finance topics not usually covered in state audits.
"Over the last couple months there's been a lot of political piling onto the agency, and this is the latest manifestation of that," she said.
Monorail board member Cindi Laws, who openly objected to the lobbying effort last winter, called for SMP's chief attorney to resign because the audit report showed SMP was not following state laws for public meetings. She is running for re-election against Beth Goldberg and Stan Lippmann.
Ross Macfarlane said he wouldn't resign based on Laws' remarks. The agency got a "clean audit," he said, considering the complexity of public-works contracting.
Sonntag dismissed SMP's portrayal of a "clean audit" as semantics: "If it's important for them to create a smokescreen rather than deal with what's contained in the report, that seems to be of more interest to them."
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.