Audit shows Island Transit is on right path

More than two years down the road from financial havoc, Island Transit received clean financial and accountability audits from the state auditor.

In fact, auditors were glowing in their praise of the agency’s turnaround, according to Rick Almberg, Oak Harbor councilman and chairman of the Island Transit board.

“The transit district has really made strides toward protecting the public’s financial investment in the district,” he said.

Mike Nortier, director of Island Transit, and the board discussed the audit reports at a meeting last week. The financial statement audit covers the period between Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2015. The accountability audit looked at certain operations from the beginning of 2015 and into 2016, Nortier explained.

Nortier said the turnaround, which started before he was hired, was the result of hard work by Financial Analyst Paul Arand and many others.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into it,” he said.

“We’re working hard to overcome negative perceptions,” he added

The transit agency has a history of audit findings and management letters. Auditors issued a series of findings in reports released in 2014, which came after major financial problems were brought to light in the district. The district laid off employees, cut services and borrowed more than $2 million.

Nortier said the district is still paying off the bond, but the audit shows that the district’s cash position is strong. The agency’s cash jumped 160 percent, or $1.5 million, from 2014 to 2015.

As of December 2016, the district had $6.4 million in total reserves. Nortier pointed out that outside factors have helped the district in 2016. Sales tax was higher than anticipated and fuel prices were lower than budgeted.

Transit officials aren’t itching to spend the money right away and aren’t done making changes for the better, Nortier said. The agency is in the midst of a comprehensive study to determine how routes can be modified to make them more efficient. The agency is continuing to look at adding fares system-wide and bringing back Saturday service.

Island Transit will have public meetings and gather input before any decisions are made later this year, Nortier said.