San Diego Business Journal Annual Golden Watchdog And Golden Fleece Awards Point Out Best, Worst in Spending

For saving more than $800 million on privatized welfare reform, the county was rewarded for its efficient use of taxpayer's money.

For spending more than $17 million in overtime payments, the Sheriff's Department was noted for wasting government dollars.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association presented its sixth annual Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards on April 19 to the government agencies that saved money and those that didn't.

The county was awarded the Grand Watchdog award for outsourcing the Welfare to Work program to outside agencies.

The Sheriff's Department was given the Grand Fleece for inefficient use of government funds for "chronic abuse of overtime and mismanagement."

"The purpose of our awards is not only to influence public debate, but also to educate the public about how government spends our tax dollars," said Mary Ball, the Taxpayers Association president.

This year marks the 55th year the taxpayer advocacy group has served as a "watchdog" on government spending. The group even awarded itself a Golden Fleece award this year for commending the benefits of energy deregulation to ratepayers.

More than 150 nominations were received for local and regional programs. Six Golden Fleece and Six Golden Watchdogs were awarded.

Golden Watchdog Award winners included: Sub-regional Watchdog:

The Sweetwater Union High School District for contracting with an out-of-state independent source for electric and natural gas energy. The district saved more than $1.5 million in 2000 alone and is projecting to save more than $6 million over the life of the contract.

Regional Watchdog:

County of San Diego Deferred & Major Maintenance Funding program. The county established a three-year, $32 million deferred maintenance program. Now that the program is complete, the county has established an ongoing $11 million major maintenance program.

"Profiles in Courage" Watchdog:

Dave Schlesinger, director of the city of San Diego's Metropolitan Wastewater Department. Schlesinger pursued the expansion and repair of the metropolitan sewer system, a $1.5 billion project, which has been on time and on budget. He played a leading role in the city receiving a federal sewer outfall waiver, which saved taxpayers more than $3 billion in unnecessary projects.

Special Watchdog:

County Supervisor Bill Horn , Vote to Suspend Call-Box Fees. Last month, Horn was the lone opposition against a proposal for the SAFE (Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies) Board to reverse its decision to suspend call-box fees , a decision that saved motorists $2 million annually.

Metropolitan Watchdog:

City of San Diego Environmental Services Trash Truck/LNG Conversion. The city voted to convert its fleet of trash trucks to liquid natural gas, an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel fuel.

Golden Fleece award winners: Sub-Regional Fleece:

Lower Sweetwater Fire District. Special fire district has no working fire apparatus, fights no fires, but has a board that meets several times a month, and receives stipends of $75 per meeting.

Perpetual Airport Study Fleece:

San Diego Association of Governments (Sandag)/San Diego Unified Port District. The award is given every year there is another airport study without making a decision to site an airport. Since 1943, there have been more than two dozen airport studies, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. In 2000, Sandag and the port initiated another study.

Metropolitan Fleece:

The Metropolitan Transit Development Board. During the past three years, the MTDB and its two subsidiary agencies have spent more than $100,000 on private investigations focusing on employee theft, drug use, sexual misconduct and other abuses. MTDB spent tens of thousands of dollars on a marketing campaign celebrating its 25th anniversary. The agency also raised fares, which they admitted would reduce ridership.

Federal Fleece:

Immigration & Naturalization Service/U.S. Customs Service-Commuter Lane Pass Delays. On Sept. 7, a dedicated commuter lane was opened at the San Ysidro border crossing to serve northbound traffic. A similar lane has operated at Otay Mesa for several years. The service enables commuters who have been screened and approved as being low risk for illegal activities to cross the border using special lanes without undergoing the usual primary inspection. Use of the lanes was expected to reduce delays.

Special Fleece:

Energy Deregulation (California State Legislature, California Public Utilities Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Independent System Operator, Utility Companies, Consumer Groups, and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association). This issue was called the worst miscalculation of government and industry since the Great Depression. Support for energy deregulation received unanimous support from the state Legislature and the past governor.