Improperly sorted mail cost Philadelphia over $1.5 million last year and led to numerous city residents receiving late water bills, traffic citations and court notices, according to the latest report from City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
Butkovitz announced Wednesday that on-site inspections determined Mail Center employees were wasting funds on postage costs by not appropriately processing mail through the sorting machine. Butkovitz says the city is charged 48.5 cents per piece of mail rather than the normal 39.1 cents whenever mail is not pre-sorted by zip code.
Butkovitz’s report followed an initial investigation in February, 2016 which determined tens of thousands of pieces of mail were not being processed on time, including court notices, fines, tax bills, water bills and parking violations. According to Butkovitz, his investigate unit received 168 phone calls and emails regarding late mail since then.
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“There was a lot of response from the public saying this just happened to me and I thought it only happened to me,” Butkovitz said. “People were receiving notice of court dates after the court date had passed so they were subject to possible imposition of bench warrants and fines.”
Analysis from a vendor who maintains the mail sorting machines determined the city could save more than $1 million annually if the mail is properly sorted, according to Butkovitz’s report.
“During our investigation we obtained a copy of this analysis which was provided to the Revenue Department a year ago,” said Butkovitz. “Unfortunately, the Department under the prior Administration did not take action to realize the significant savings.”
Butkovitz says he notified newly-appointed Revenue Commissioner Frank Breslin who indicated that the Department of Revenue is working closely with the in-house technician to optimize the use of the sorter and ensure that all mail eligible for discounts are processed.
“We have established a database so we can track all mail that is in the mail room and where it is in process at any given time,” said Breslin, who oversees Revenue Department improvements that include the hiring of more staff, cutting overtime and implementing more security measures.
Butkovitz also said the technician is training staff to properly operate the sorter and make sure it’s running efficiently.
“We will hold the Department accountable to saving tax dollars and getting mail processed and delivered on time – all of the time,” said Butkovitz.
Butkovitz’s report also determined the amount of overtime being paid to employees in the Mail Center from 2013 to 2015 increased by 27 percent, from $131,235 to $171,427, while the volume of mail pieces processed decreased 10 percent, from 13.2 million pieces to 11.9 million.
“Management allowed virtually unlimited overtime for these employees without pre-approval or justification,” said Butkovitz. “It is encouraging that the new Commissioner has already taken steps to cut overtime by 23 percent and requiring all overtime to have the approval of senior-level management.”
So far no one has lost their jobs in the aftermath of the report though Butkovitz warns that could change.
“For some of the egregious violations probably so,” he said.
Butkovitz also told NBC10 his office will issue letters to anyone who had to pay fines due to the mishap with directions on how they could get their money back.