State pays for empty spots at treatment facilities - FOX 35 News Orlando

State pays for empty spots at treatment facilities

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Nobody likes to be on the wrong end of a bad deal, but that's exactly what's happening to Florida taxpayers because, often times, your money is being wasted. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater says, after reviewing hundreds of contracts with private vendors, he's uncovered millions in waste which should not be tolerated.

A few years ago, a FOX 13 investigation exposed a bad contract with the Department of Agriculture to develop an online calendar that farmers didn't ask for or want. The calendar was later scrapped.

CFO Atwater says he sees vendor deals like this happen far too often, especially in transportation, education, mental health, and prison facilities.

"We have had institutions that have signed contracts to provide three meals a day per bed and you might say that sounds logical, but then you realize the facility is only 30-percent occupied. Are we really paying for meals for beds that are not occupied? These are the issues we're finding," explained Atwater.

Here's a closer look at the numbers for just one contract with the Department of Juvenile Justice for more than $2.9 million with a Tampa based company called AMIkids, which helps troubled youth transition back into society.

LINK: Read contract: https://facts.fldfs.com/Search/ContractDetail.aspx?AgencyId=800000&ContractId=P2106

An audit revealed the non-profit is paid $68.50 for every slot filled at several day-treatment facilities in north Florida. However, under the terms of the contract, which runs through 2017, the state will also pay even if nobody were there. Unfilled slots are paid to the provider at a rate of $63.50 cents a day.

The contract summary shows AMIkids was consistently paid more each month for empty slots then filled ones.

LINK: Read contract summary: http://content.foxtvmedia.com/wtvt/html/misc/DJJ-AMIKids.pdf

"It's a terrible deal for taxpayers," continued Atwater.

AMIkids defended the contract and the company's director of communications, Sherri Ulleg, sent FOX 13 this statement:

"The reason for the filled and unfilled rates is that the contract requires our programs maintain eight staff positions that are licensed, qualified and/or trained. Funds are expended to have appropriate staffing in place to provide the contracted behavioral and therapeutic programming for the kids enrolled and those entering the program. While there was a transition period with referrals as the new contract began in July, enrollment has steadily increased since September."

Jeff Atwater is now pushing legislation which would allow his office to pre-audit contracts like the one with AMIkids to strike a better deal for taxpayers. He's also working to get even more contracts online for everybody to see as part of the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS) created after he took office.

"There are 19 million Floridians. Well, I want 19 million auditors," added Atwater. "I want them to see an image of every contract."

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