Erie County Commissioner Bill Monaghan deserves high praise for his criticism of the county's department of engineering services and its questionable accounting.
"I'm just not happy with some of the numbers coming out of that department," Monaghan said. "In fact, I'm very unhappy. The numbers that are coming out of that department are like chameleons. Every time you look at it, it changes just like a chameleon changes colors."
However, there's one color that keeps showing up -- red, as in red ink. The department is swimming in it and in this economy, every penny counts. And when poor accounting leads to budget deficits and layoffs, as it did for eight department employees who lost their jobs last month, Monaghan has every right to question the numbers.
Director Jack Meyers said the department is already on track to lose $867,500 this year despite cutting its proposed 2009 budget to about $30.2 million -- 20 percent below last year's budget. That news in of itself is troubling, but made even more so when Erie County is due more than $47,000 from the city of Bellevue and $2,100 from Groton Township because of meter reading and accounting errors, respectively.
Monaghan has proposed putting the the department's six accounting employees under the direction of county Finance Director Pete Daniels to keep closer tabs on the numbers and eliminate some duplicity of services. Commissioner Tom Ferrell has pointed out that may not be entirely possible because of union issues and labor contracts.
Still, reform is needed and now is the time for action. It's time for detailed audit of the entire department and to put a plug in its leaky financial pipes.
That's our money going down the drain.