A state audit, requested through a petition from residents of Ottumwa, shows the Ottumwa Transit Authority overstated its passenger counts. Susan Battani, with the state auditor’s office, says the OTA’s executive director – Pam Ward – told staffers to inflate the numbers.

Ridership counts, according to the audit, were increased by 50 percent during the last fiscal year. “Passenger count is used by the Department of Transportation to determine the funding that the OTA will receive,” Battani said. “So, inflating those counts has a significant impact on OTA’s funding.” OTA bus drivers told state officials the practice of bumping ridership numbers had been in place for several years.

The state auditor’s report also raises concerns about the OTA’s destruction of ridership records for previous years. Battani says federal regulations require those records be kept on file for at least three years.

The report also documents “questionable expenditures,” including Ward’s decision to hire her husband to do construction work for the OTA. “There’s a specific statutory requirement that requires (construction work) to be bid and that process wasn’t followed,” Battani said. “Also of concern is the fact the OTA board did not approve that hiring, at least it wasn’t documented in the board minutes.”

The report also shows transit authority management and staffers used OTA facilities for oil changes, car washing, maintenance and detailing personal vehicles. The auditor’s report has been turned over to the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Wapello County Attorney’s office.