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State senator: Community college audit reveals 'disturbing' information

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 09. 2017 10:51PM

Sen. John Reagan 

CONCORD - Lawmakers have many questions about an audit of the state's community college system, which they hope to have answered at a hearing Sept. 19.

"The recommendations and observations are so disturbing that we have to do something about it," said Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, chairman of the Public Higher Education Study Committee.

The four-year performance audit released two weeks ago identified "several areas in need of improvement" that cover virtually every aspect of college operations, including administration, finance and information technology.

The auditing team from the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant reported that the community college system, with seven campuses across the state, "lacked comprehensive policies and procedures in key business areas such as finance, budgeting, capital planning, procurement, data management, fleet management and information technology project planning."

The report also identified instances of bartering, conflicts of interest and "questionable spending."

One area highlighted for questionable spending was "fleet management."

"We found CCSNH (Community College System of New Hampshire) had not established policies and procedures to govern its fleet of vehicles, and instead relied upon informal practices to make decisions regarding requisition, utilization, assignment and replacement," according to the auditors.

A fleet of 54 passenger vehicles, sport utility vehicles and light trucks is located throughout the state, with vehicles typically shared by faculty and staff when needed for CCSNH business. The seven presidents and the chancellor, however, each have vehicles assigned to them, and often use them for personal purposes, according to the audit.

"While all presidents use their vehicles for CCSNH business, some also use their vehicles for commuting and personal purposes," auditors wrote. "While CCSNH did track the personal use of its vehicles to report to the Internal Revenue Service as a noncash fringe benefit, it did not have written policies on what characterizes personal use."

Vehicle use examined

The community college system provided the following list of presidents and the vehicles purchased for them:

.Chancellor: 2012 Honda Accord.

.President of River Valley Community College: 2015 Toyota Rav 4.

.President of Great Bay Community College: 2014 Ford Escape.

.President of White Mountains Community College: 2017 Ford Escape.

.President of Manchester Community College: 2012 Ford Focus.

.President of Nashua Community College: 2013 Honda Pilot.

.President of Lakes Region Community College: 2015 Chevy Equinox.

.President of N.H. Technical Institute: 2014 Toyota Rav 4.

The auditors recommend the community college system review the use of these vehicles to determine if "alternative methods of providing transportation" would be more efficient and practical, "such as commercial renting or reimbursing for private vehicle use."

CCSNH officials concurred with the findings of the auditors with a one-sentence response: "CCSNH agrees that it should establish system-wide policies and procedures for fleet management including monitoring compliance with such policies and procedures."

CCSNH spokesman Shannon Reid said there is currently no systemwide policy for vehicle purchases or their use.

"This varies according to the practice of each individual," she said. "Several only use vehicles for business and commuting use. In the case of River Valley, the vehicle is presently used as a pool vehicle by the president and others. Any use outside of business use is reported on W-2 as a non-cash fringe benefit," she said.

Reader Poll

  • Which is more subject to abuse, providing Community College System of NH executives with 'work' vehicles or reimbursing miles they put on their own?
  • 'Work' vehicle
  • 42%
  • Reimbursed miles
  • 16%
  • They're equal
  • 43%
  • Total Votes: 1095

'A very expensive perk'

CCSNH is reviewing and revising its procurement policies to include, among other things, "more specific policy guidance at a deeper level on conflict of interest, selection process and centralized oversight of procurement," according to the system's response to the auditors' recommendations.

The lack of clear policies and controls over the use of vehicles owned by the Community College System is just one detail in an overall report that suggests "it's not a well-managed business operation," according to Reagan.

"If the chancellor is required to visit each campus every month, you could say that might justify a company car," he said, "but for the presidents, it's just a perk - a very expensive perk."

The expense is compounded by the fact the college system also pays for fuel and maintenance on the vehicles. "The colleges are responsible for maintenance and fuel for the vehicles listed as they serve a business purpose," according to Reid. "How that is handled varies depending on the nature of the service needed."

Many issues to address

Reagan said fleet management is just one of many issues that the Public Higher Education Study Committee wants addressed.

"I've asked the community colleges to come and tell us how they're going to deal with all the recommendations in the audit," he said.

CCSNH was overseen by the state Department of Regional Community-Technical Colleges until 2011, when control was transferred to the CCSNH Board of Trustees.

"The Legislature made the community college system separate, and the Legislature can reverse that," said Reagan.

Although the Legislature redesignated CCSNH from a government agency to an independent institution, it continues to exercise oversight through legislation, requiring reports and directing performance audits.

The state contributed $46 million to the system's $127 million budget last year.

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