BOSTON, MA —An audit of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), released today by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, shows the agency is still not collecting all user fees that are owed to the Commonwealth. The audit estimates that approximately $600,000 in user fees were unpaid at the end of the audit. Today’s audit, which looked at DCR activity from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2017, follows-up on a 2013 audit of the agency which found approximately $168,000 in uncollected user fees.
“The Department of Conservation and Recreation is responsible for maintaining our public lands and ensuring that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth receive fair compensation when others profit from them,” Bump said. “Our 2013 audit highlighted significant problems with the lease management and fee collection on state-owned land. At that time, DCR indicated it had a plan in place to address these issues but this audit makes clear that efforts to improve collection of user fees have not only stalled, but this problem has grown. DCR must take immediate action to address this problem.”
Today’s audit shows that DCR did not keep an accurate official record of its use agreements and did not have an adequate billing collections system, policies or procedures to effectively collect fees. Bump’s office found that DCR had not sent any of the accounts that were past due by 120 days or more to the State Comptroller for collection or intercept. The high ground program, which leases public land for telecommunications towers, was the largest driver of new unpaid user fees during the two-year audit period, racking up nearly $115,000 in unpaid fees.
Bump calls on DCR to expand its efforts to collect overdue fees and improve its protocols for recording payment of these fees.
The 2013 audit also found that DCR had not updated the fee rates it established as far back at 1923 and had not developed a method for setting fair user fees for boat and yacht clubs leasing on DCR land. The current audit determined that DCR had developed a method for setting fair user fees for all 28 boat and yacht clubs, but also notes that it had not fully established proper fees for utility providers that use state land, although the agency indicated this task was in progress. Additionally, the audit calls on DCR to take further steps to ensure lessees and permittees comply with liability insurance requirements and resolve expired use agreements.
DCR was created in 2003 as part of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, when its two predecessor agencies merged. It is responsible for the administration and oversight of state parks, forests, reservations, and recreational facilities. In fiscal year 2017, it received state appropriations of $86.8 million and reported other revenue of $23.6 million, and had approximately 850 employees.