The City of Indianapolis may have illegally paid nearly $300,000 out of a city fund for its new electric vehicle fleet.
Marion County Auditor Julie Voorhies says in a letter to several City-County Councilors that $200,000 was taken from the stormwater utility fund to pay Vision Fleet. That’s the company hired to provide 400 electric vehicles to the city. According to the letter, another $93,000 from the fund was used to pay other expenses related to the fleet.
Voorhies says using storm water fund money for other purposes is illegal.
"As such, to the extent that this $293,000 paid to Vision Fleet and other vehicle-leasing firm(s) does not exclusively benefit the Stormwater Management District, some or all of these payments from the Stormwater Management Fund are questionable," Voorhies writes.
The mayor's office admits it took money from the stormwater fund without telling councilors, but says its hand was forced.
Mayor Greg Ballard’s deal to convert the city fleet has come under much criticism from councilors, with some accusing the entire contract of being illegal. A spokeswoman for the mayor says the Department of Public Works shifted money out of the Vision Fleet fund in order to pay for last minute snow removal costs when councilors didn't approve more money.
That money has been put back, the spokeswoman said. Communications Director Jenn Pittman's full statement:
"In 2014, the Vision Fleet program was fully-funded in DPW as part of the adopted City-County budget. After expenses from severe weather in early 2014 strained DPW’s operations budget, funds appropriated for the Vision Fleet program were reallocated. In November 2014, DPW sought an appropriation to close the gap created by their severe weather response and to make a contractual payment to Vision Fleet. A Council committee struck that funding provision from the ordinance, and with little time remaining in the calendar year, the DPW finance team used an interfund loan from the Stormwater Fund to meet the department’s financial obligation. The process should have been reviewed by the Council but was not. As of May 27, 2015, the expense is reflected in the correct DPW fund. A May 28, 2015 memo from the Auditor mentions this transaction as well as a payment from the Stormwater Fund for $93,000. The latter payment was appropriate and was used to lease equipment related to stormwater operations and maintenance. We have invited Councilors and Council staff to discuss the program and determine appropriate next steps. We look forward to those ongoing conversations and the future of an electric vehicle fleet in Indianapolis."
Vision Fleet says in a statement it’s acted in good faith and within the law. It accuses politicians of defaming the company.
Vision Fleet's statement says, in part, "we would be grateful if those engaged in that fight would stop long enough to have a conversation about what needs to be addressed and how we can work together. This political fight is unfairly defaming our company and its reputation and imperiling a successful program. We want to solve problems and foster innovation that can be replicated in other fleets across the nation, and we are growing increasingly concerned about our ability to continue that work in Indianapolis."