PHILADELPHIA -- The NBC 10 Investigators were first to report about allegations of a Philadelphia employee buying cell phones on the city dollar and giving them to friends and co-workers.
Now, investigative reporter Harry Hairston has discovered that's not all. Thousands of items of city property are missing and may have been for years.
The mayor's office said it had no idea about the amount of unaccounted for city property until NBC 10 brought it to their attention. It's public money that could have been wasted, Hairston reported.
Philadelphia officials spend millions of your tax dollars on items needed to help city employees do their jobs.
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They range from laptops to cells phones, desk computers, office furniture and much more.
How does the city keep track of all of them? Apparently it doesn't, as the NBC 10 Investigators discovered thousands of items are missing.
These documents are part of a 500-page report obtained from the city controller's office. The report lists every single missing item and bottom-lines the dollar value.
The findings come from a city audit of 47 departments. The dollar value of the missing items is $21 million.
"It's outrageous. It's a shame," said Edward Wilson, of Germantown.
"We really need to hold these people responsible for what they're doing with our tax dollars," said Mary Reed, of Northeast Philadelphia.
Not even the city controller's office knew the list was that big until NBC 10 asked for the audit."Well, you have identified a list of missing personal inventory of over $21 million, which is kind of shocking because there's a lot of things the city can not afford to do that it could do with that amount of money," City Controller Alan Butkovitz said.
Butkovitz said he figures $21 million could pay for an additional 350 Philadelphia police officers for a year, or cover the cost of about 500 more officers on SEPTA's lesser-paid force.
Just $15 million could fully equip the city's eight health centers.
How could city officials spend millions of dollars on items and not have a clue as to where they are? Hairston went straight to City Hall looking for answers.
The mayor's Press Secretary Doug Oliver wouldn't talk on camera, but he did say, "The city is aware there are $21-million worth of items unaccounted for," and that, "The city is looking to make changes to stop the bleeding."
The controller's office is already taking action.
"I think -- now that you have highlighted this problem -- I think that we will do a review and make recommendations to public property and the other departments involved on improved steps that they can take to try to reduce this as a problem," Butkovitz said.
A few of the departments reporting the highest dollar values of missing items include: city representative, which handles special events, at more than $3 million; the Department of Human Resources shows more than $2 million; public property is at more than $1 million, and so are the police department and the health department.
Referring to a list of hundreds of missing laptops and cell phones, Butkovitz said each employee must be held accountable.
"An item like that, that is easily portable and that is that easy to sell on the street, you have got to be serious about protecting that as part of the city's inventory," he said.
The mayor's office said once they figure out how they're going to fix the problem, they'll allow those responsible for staying on top in the problem in the first place to comment on camera, Hairston reported.That brings us to the Web question: should city employees who lose or misplace work items be forced to pay for them?
Click on the following links to take the NBC 10 Investigators' survey or give them your feedback.
Responding Thursday to NBC 10's report, Butkovitz fired off a letter to the Office of the Director of Finance and carbon copied the city manager and mayor.
In the letter are 11 recommendations to fix the problem.
"We were surprised when we went back into it to find out that the accounting procedures of handling personal property inventories for employees in Philadelphia haven't been reviewed, reissued or changed since 1972," Butkovitz said.
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