San Diego airport vendor used about $44,000 of city water without paying, auditor says

A vendor for San Diego’s two general aviation airports, Montgomery Field and Brown Field, has been using water from fire hydrants for about a decade without paying, costing the city an estimated $44,000, according to a new report by City Auditor Eduardo Luna.

Last week’s report, which does not identify the vendor by name or purpose, was prompted by a tip left on the city’s fraud hotline. The report said the vendor’s contract contained no provisions to allow for the purchase or use of such water. The vendor had been taking it from hydrants without using a meter for about 10 years at the direction of city staff.

Without information from meters, auditors could not determine exactly how much water the vendor used, the report said. They estimated it at about 5,000 gallons per year, based on information gleaned from interviews.

At the current water rate for construction activity, 5,000 gallons would cost $4,400, not including monthly meter base fees.

Luna’s report said the vendor may have violated the San Diego Municipal Code, which says it is unlawful to use city water from fire hydrants for any purpose other than extinguishing fires without first getting authorization and installing a fire hydrant meter, regardless of the user’s knowledge or intent.

Separately, auditors found during their investigation that another airport contract that was out for bids also did not include water use provisions or reference to the hydrant metering program, the report said. A prospective vendor asked about water use requirements during a pre-bid conference, but staff did not add a contract provision to address the omission.

In interviews with city airport division staff, auditors learned that employees were unaware of the city’s hydrant metering program, the report said.

Auditors recommended city officials hold the vendor accountable, recover costs, update the city’s policy for the hydrant metering program and include requirements for water use and payment in future contracts.

City management agreed to implement all four recommendations by the end of 2018, the report said.

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