Audit calls for fixes to state waste tire program

The state Department of Environmental Quality’s Waste Tire Management Program needs improvement to make sure the state gets waste tire fees paid on time, according to a Louisiana legislative auditor’s report released Monday.

While there’s room for improvement, “we believe we run an effective program here,” said Vince Sagnibene, DEQ undersecretary. “We take the tire program very seriously.”

The report adds that DEQ doesn’t have a system in place to follow up with businesses that accept tires when that business doesn’t report as required.

“Without these reports, DEQ cannot ensure that generators are remitting all fees owed to the state,” according to the report.

The report says some of the fees paid to DEQ’s waste tire program were more than a month late and the department doesn’t have a good system to tell if businesses are underpaying their fees.

“We identified 249 generators that failed to submit any reports during fiscal year 2013,” the report says.

Sagnibene said DEQ staff believe the majority of the businesses that failed to report were ones that had either not dealt with any tires or had gone out of business.

DEQ also doesn’t assess a penalty fee if a tire generator is late or turns in incomplete waste tire reports, according to the report. In 2013 alone, the legislative auditor found 1,045 tire generators in the state were late on their payments but DEQ only penalized one of them.

“As shown in the exhibit, during fiscal year 2013 DEQ only issued one generator $400 in penalties for fee-related violations,” according to the report.

That’s likely the way things will stay, Sagnibene said.

“Am I interested in penalizing anyone? No,” he said.

For small “mom and pop” businesses, setting additional fees because of late payment doesn’t help anyone and doesn’t make businesses pay more promptly than they otherwise would, he said.

“Some people pay their bills late,” he said.

The DEQ Criminal Investigation Division has announced a number of arrests over the years for waste tire violations, which acts as a deterrent to anyone trying to get around the program, he said.

The goal of the program is to keep waste tires from piling up at businesses or in unauthorized dump sites and it’s working, he said.

The way the waste tire management program works is that a tire generator will remove someone’s old tires and collect a fee based on the size of the tire removed. The fee goes into the DEQ fund. Those used tires are then collected by another business that will process them and then sell them for DEQ pre-approved projects such as fuel, playgrounds or other uses, Sagnibene said. Upon that sale, DEQ pays the processor 7.5 cents per pound of tires to be used. DEQ keeps 8.5 percent of the money for the administration of the program but the rest of it goes into the fund for payments.

Many of the issues outlined in the legislative auditor’s report will be addressed when a new electronic filing system goes online, Sagnibene said. DEQ launched a pilot project last week with one tire generator in Lafayette and is working out the bugs before going statewide with all participants in the program, Sagnibene said.

“With the shortage of staff, we have to depend on (information technology),” he said.

Another criticism in the report is that a Waste Tire Program Task Force, which was created in 2013 by the state Legislature to study the program, has never met, even though it was required to meet by Aug. 31.

Sagnibene said instead of just meeting for no purpose, officials decided that since DEQ was already rewriting the waste tire rules, they would send out the proposed revisions to the waste tire businesses then hold a meeting to refine those rules. Those proposed revisions should be ready to share within the next three months, he said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.