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DiNapoli: Full ORDA audit warranted

Olympic Authority buying, borrowing source of worries

March 27, 2013
Updated 10:03 p.m.
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Gore Mountain Ski Bowl, shown here in 2010, is one of the state ski areas run by the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Gore Mountain Ski Bowl, shown here in 2010, is one of the state ski areas run by the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

— State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will launch a full audit of the Olympic Regional Development Authority after an initial review showed some significant operating losses.

DiNapoli on Wednesday released a report that highlighted ORDA’s losses and reliance on credit from a private bank to meet spending needs.

“ORDA’s venues have long been an essential part of the North Country economy, which heightens the need to ensure its stability and accountability to the public,” DiNapoli said. “We will examine selected financial management practices related to payroll, procurement and other areas.”

The authority, founded in 1981 to operate facilities set up in the Adirondacks for the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, operates facilities around Lake Placid, plus the Whiteface and Gore Mountain ski areas. It last year added the Belleayre ski complex in the Catskills, which the state Department of Environmental Conservation had previously run.

ORDA officials said they weren’t contacted in advance by DiNapoli, and contended there were inaccuracies in his report.

DiNapoli said most of ORDA’s revenue comes from fees from skiing, skating and other activities. It also receives money from the state, the town of North Elba, Empire State Development Corporation and the New York Power Authority. New York state in 2012 provided $4.7 million, and the town of North Elba just over $900,000.

“The broad scope of entities with a financial stake in ORDA demonstrates the importance of ensuring that the operations and finances of even a relatively small public authority, such as ORDA, be transparent and that the Authority be fully accountable to the public,” the report stated.

The most recent fiscal data, according to DiNapoli, shows the authority spent $40.4 million and generated $39.8 million in revenue, including the state and local government funding. Without the government funding, he said, the authority self-report cited a $16.9 million operating loss.

In the fiscal year ended March 31, 2012, ORDA reported 304 active purchase contracts totaling nearly $27.5 million, of which 167, valued at nearly $7 million, were either not competitively bid or were non-contract procurements.

In response to the finding about non-bid purchasing, ORDA President Ted Blazer said in a statement late Wednesday that the purchases were for items that don’t require competitive bidding or are specialized services.

“The authority has determined that the bulk of the procured items in this category were items not requiring bids such as power transmissions or dealer item parts for ski lifts, etc.,” Blazer said in a statement.

“Other items also include housing for World Cup events or the like at the United States Olympic Training Center, which is owned by ORDA and operated by the United States Olympic Committee. In other instances, emergency situations from power outages caused ORDA to use local suppliers to re-establish high-voltage systems in order to resume operations,” he said.

Blazer said the $16.9 million operating loss described by DiNapoli included non-cash items that should have been excluded from the calculation, including back depreciation of $6.7 million, post-retirement benefits of $2.7 million and back non-operating revenues of $7.8 million.

ORDA in 2012 had 204 full-time and 1,106 part-time employees in operational, administrative, managerial and executive titles.

This isn’t the first time ORDA has drawn criticism.

In 1994, ORDA drew criticism from the state inspector general for its operating practices when it was headed by the late Nevin D. “Ned” Harkness.

The inspector general accused Harkness of bilking the state out of thousands of dollars by charging some personal expenses to ORDA while he was in Florida. Harkness denied any wrongdoing. The attorney general dropped the probe in 1996 without bringing criminal charges.

DiNapoli has said his office is increasing its oversight of the state’s more than 1,000 public authorities.

 
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