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Originally published Monday, January 7, 2013 at 8:17 PM

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Sound Transit paid security firm $350,000 too much, audit finds

Sound Transit overpaid its security firm $349,632 over a 4-1/2-year period, state Auditor Brian Sonntag has found.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Sound Transit overpaid its security firm $349,632 over a 4 ½-year period, state Auditor Brian Sonntag has found.

An untrained employee and overly complex accounting systems were to blame for the payment mistakes, which benefited the private firm Securitas, according to a report issued Monday. The excessive payments were:

• Fees of $126,147 paid for late processing. Sound Transit actually budgeted for paying late fees, according to the audit.

• Overtime pay of $189,879 for holiday shifts and $1,532 for court appearances, which were not eligible for extra pay in the contract, and $31,960 more for overtime that hadn't been authorized in writing by Sound Transit.

• A clerical mistake in billing rates, amounting to a $114 loss.

In addition, the auditor dinged Sound Transit for paying $17,081,913 to the King County Sheriff's Office, for transit-police services, without reviewing the paperwork. Transit staff relied on the Sheriff's Office to review itself, and the Sheriff's Office didn't send invoices on time during most of 2012.

"We don't think we've paid extra to the Sheriff's Office. All the expenses were justified," said transit spokesman Bruce Gray. Invoices are now arriving on time, he said.

State auditors note that Sound Transit, whose yearly budget is $1.1 billion, met state rules in most areas and passed its five previous financial audits without major lapses.

However, a recent performance audit, published last year under authority of Tim Eyman's Initiative 900, said the agency's Citizen Oversight Panel lacked a clear watchdog mission, and that transit leaders filled positions with boosters.

Sound Transit is simplifying the billing process and attempting to recover the excess holiday and overtime pay from Securitas, said Gray. It also launched an internal performance audit on other goods and services, he said.

Massive construction contracts, such as light-rail extensions, are overseen by the federal government and monitored through regular progress reports.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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