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State not pressing transit issue in audit

A spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Transportation said the state agency has no plans at this point to push its own audit of the Columbia County Rider program following an unfavorable end-of-year financial audit released in January.

'I'm not ruling it out, but at this point, according to our auditors, they say no,' said Patrick Cooney, an ODOT spokesman, when asked if the state was planning its own review of Columbia County Rider's financials.

An end-of-year audit completed by Merina and Company of West Linn found discrepancies in how the county was reporting its federal grant awards and bus fare revenue. Some data, such as revenue up through May 2007, was missing completely.

County officials say a leading cause of the discrepancies is that the system simply grew too big too fast, and that insufficient staffing is allocated to manage the grants.

Some officials are talking about the possibility of hiring additional staff to specifically manage the grants, most of which originate at the federal level and pass through ODOT before reaching the county.

'Like or not, we're going to have to ramp up some staff to accommodate that,' said Commissioner Tony Hyde.

Whether funding will be in place to hire additional staff is questionable, however, and could depend on whether a federal timber payment set to expire in June will receive an extension.

The payment amounts to around $2.25 million in county revenue annually, and originates from federal legislation intended to compensate counties sorely hit financially when necessary wildlife habitat and environmental protections forced slowdowns in logging activity.

Hyde said being on the receiving end of one bad report can be written off as a mistake, but he cautioned against future errors that would establish a negative trend.

'We don't want a trend,' he said.