Magazine

The Best Ways to Keep From Being Fired

By Brandy Stanley

I hope I donít screw up my first shot at being a published professional. Actually, thatís what I think a lot of the time when Iím trying to figure out how to structure revenue control procedures for on-street parking.
Remember that article a while back about a meter technician on the East Coast who got caught with about $275,000 in coins from the old-style single-space meters? I thought, ďIím glad that wasnít my operation!Ē
Then I got called to the mayorís office. I was informed that pay-and-display meters were bad and the old single-pace meters were good because look what happened with the meter technician and all that money stolen. Huh?
So how do you avoid being fired, jailed or forced to resign because of on-street revenue disappearance?
Think about investing in electronic locks or e-locks. The keys to these locks must be programmed for a certain meter, day and time frame to allow access to the meters. Designated individuals (not the ones actually collecting the meters, mind you) are in charge of the programming, downloading and uploading of the keys after use. There are a reporting trail, accountability, segregation of duties Ė whatís not to like? It also can allow you to combine meter technicians and meter collectors into one job description.
While e-locks may be a bit pricey, they can easily pay for themselves. We ordered them for our P-and-D meters. Then someone broke into the van and stole the keys (the meter techs had forgotten to take them out of the van that night). The offender promptly went to several meters and attempted to get into the coin vaults. Because the e-locks hadnít been programmed, he finally gave up and took a cinderblock after a few of them. He gave up on that, too.
Meters: 2, Thief: 0. Expense of rekeying entire meter system: $0. My job: Safe!
Next, do your best to make sure the meters you are using know how much money they contain and force a download or other report, receipt, etc., whenever the vaults are removed. That way, someone other than the collector knows a meter has been collected and how much money should be in it.
If your meters canít support that, donít sigh and say, ďOh, well, Iíll just have to hope.Ē (Remember e-locks? They work on old meters, too.)
Rotate crews through collection routes so you donít have one crew on the same route all the time. Youíll be able to track revenues over time and see if any differences follow specific employees or patterns.
Spot-check occupancy by conducting car counts in small areas; do a surprise collection and see if the revenues pass the ďsanity checkĒ based on the occupancy.
Reconcile your meter system reports to bank deposits and credit card statements on a daily basis. We forgot to do this for our garage and found that the credit card transactions were being buffered in a lane device.
Imagine what happened when we fixed the problem and about 50 people got charged for four months of daily parking all at once. Oops. Then imagine how things would go if it were a 5,000-space meter operation processing 1.5 million transactions a year. You think 50 people was challenging? Thatís not ďoopsĒ; thatís where firing, jail and resignation kick in.
How about batch vs. real-time credit card processing? Real-time processing is usually more expensive in communications costs, but it makes the above mentioned reconciliation possible.
We tried batch first, and it was impossible to reconcile. The meter system we used kept the rejected transactions in a queue and resent them to the processor every day. Inevitably, some of those transactions would be processed, resulting in an actual deposit that did not match the revenue generated on the date being reconciled. We might have reconciled it if we wanted to comb through 500,000 transactions, but we took the easy way out and switched to real-time processing.
Develop procedures for handling discrepancies. Occasionally, a meter will miscount the money going into the vault. If a shortage or overage of actual cash vs. the meter report occurs, launch an investigation. Once there is a discrepancy, the manufacturer is called, and the meter is serviced and collected once a week to test the count function until the problem is resolved. If you donít do this and keep a record of it, youíll be in trouble. Trust me. It kept me from getting fired once.
We also discovered that the bankís coin counters werenít as accurate as the meters themselves. The deposits for each vault virtually never matched what the meter system reported and were usually off one way or the other by a few pennies or as much as $2.
Pennies? The meters donít accept pennies Ė they drop through the machine to the coin return, so how the bank could count pennies when there werenít any was beyond us. The bank was unwilling to recalibrate their machines, so we settled on (and documented) an acceptable variance. If the difference was outside the variance, the aforementioned investigation process was triggered.
To close, here is my ďalmost got firedĒ story. We had a missing deposit bag, so the bank called finance. Finance called the mayor, and the police and parking got accused of stealing. We always filled out the deposit information on the armored car log, complete with signatures, and the armored car person signed it.
We also had a well-documented procedure in place for the collection and bagging of money and cameras in the meter shop showing the employees counting and bagging money, then sealing the bags. This deposit was from a meter under investigation for a discrepancy. The problem hadnít been resolved, and the receipt for the collection did not match the $20. Because we had discrepancy procedures and backup from service calls and previous collections, we were all finally exonerated rather than fired.
Brandy Stanley, Parking Services Manager for the city of Las Vegas, can be reached at bstanley@lasvegasnevada.gov.

Sidebar
Checklist:
Invest in e-locks.
Have meters that provide reports.
Rotate collection crews.
Spot-check occupancy in small areas.
Do a spot-check collection.
Have real-time credit card processing.
Reconcile bank deposits every day.
Investigate discrepancies; call manufacturer to fix counters.
Donít always believe the bankís counters.
Ė Brandy Stanley

Article Abstract from January, 2012




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