Investigation Reveals State Not Paying Bills On Time
By Ben Hall Investigative Reporter
NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered the stateisn't paying its utility bills on time, and it's costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Go to any utility company, and there will be people lining up to pay their bills before they're hit with a late fee.
Willie Murray always pays on time and has sympathy for people who cannot.
"We all try to pay them on time," said Murray. "When I don't have to it doesn't make any sense to do it that way."
He does not understand why anyone who can afford to pay on time would not.
"It's bad business and a poor allocation of your resources," said Murray.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates uncovered documents that show year after year the state of Tennessee is not paying its bills on time.
Since 2005 taxpayers have spent nearly a half million dollars on late fees.
In 2005, Tennessee departments paid nearly $50,000 in late fees, and nearly $75,000 the next year. By 2008, taxpayers were paying more than $81,000 a year and more than $100,000 in 2009.
"For me it's not defensible especially for it to continue month after month, year after year," said State Rep. Donna Rowland.
Rowland is frustrated the state looses so much money on late payments.
"Ask any program whose budget is less than a million dollars if that's real money. It is real money and what makes it more real money is it's the taxpayer dollar," said Rowland.
State officials said they're aware of the problem. Stephanie Richardson is with the state Department of Finance and Administration.
"They are big numbers and we are concerned," said Richardson. "A lot of the agencies have reported there's a very shortened time frame sometimes between when they receive an invoice and when it's due."
"This can be solved so simply - pick up the phone and give the account numbers necessary to have an automatic draft set up," said Rowland.
State officials said they're setting up more automatic drafts, but to make matters worse the state recently installed a new $150 million computer system called Edison to handle all of its accounting needs. Under that program, the late payments have skyrocketed.
"What we're seeing is some time for the agencies to adopt the new system, new screen, new fields," said Richardson.
In the last two months, the state said the number of late payments has gone down dramatically.
In past years when budgets were not so tight, these types of problems were overlooked. Now they are getting much more attention.
Three departments in state government account for more than 90 percent of the late payments. They are the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Military.