Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation’s disorganized tracking of utility work orders could put the county at risk of violating its federal consent decree with environmental regulators, according to an inspector general report posted online Friday afternoon.

The investigation was prompted by a February complaint that several hourly-rate employees in the department’s utilities bureau were inflating their work hours; from October through March, Inspector General Kelly Madigan found, five employees misrepresented their hourly work while neglecting to fulfill work orders related to wastewater pumping and treatment.

The investigation found “a significant number” of work orders related to required preventive maintenance of the county’s approximately 2,400 wastewater grinder pumps were missing from the work order tracking system, known as Cityworks. Madigan found evidence that work orders had been created for just 1,100 grinder pumps since the county began using Cityworks in 2019.

“If the county fails to perform preventative maintenance on the sewage pumping stations or grinder pumps, it could be fined by the State of Maryland and the federal government,” Madigan wrote.

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Baltimore County is under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment, requiring improvements to the county’s wastewater infrastructure by certain deadlines and quarterly updates on its sewer system. Among the federal and state requirements is routine preventive maintenance on grinder pumps.

Madigan, who didn’t directly reference the consent decree in the report, wrote that state and federal law requires grinder pumps — which process sewage to Baltimore City’s wastewater treatment plants — to undergo preventive maintenance every three years. She estimated that the county must do maintenance checks on 800 grinder pumps each year to comply with the law. Work orders should regenerate every three years to ensure the county keeps its maintenance schedule.

“Based on the data available to the Office, the County may already be in violation as the first work order was entered into Cityworks about three years ago, in July 2020. The Administration should research this issue further, and if it determines that the County is not in compliance, assess the legal and financial ramifications and devise a plan to rectify the problem,” Madigan wrote in her report.

County administrative officer Stacy Rodgers, though, said in a statement attached to the report that preventive maintenance for each grinder pump is required once every four years. Nonetheless, she added, the county is creating a report to “capture all work orders that have not been assigned.”

The report also details inconsistencies in how employees submitted electronic records through the department’s Cityworks software, which it uses to log ongoing and completed work orders; difficulties for Public Works employees to understand the software system and reluctance to use it; and a lack of managerial oversight “to ensure timely completion of work orders.”

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The inspector general also found that Public Works department managers didn’t comply with personnel manual requirements to monitor locations of county vehicles — if they had, they might have noticed five employees “spending excessive amounts of time in their service trucks at locations that did not appear to be work-related, taking numerous personal breaks during the day, and at times, going entire days without completing a work order in Cityworks,” the report says.

Rodgers declined to comment on the performance of employees as described in the report. She wrote that the Public Works department will audit “a sample of work orders vs. vehicle locations.”

Rodgers wrote that the department’s wastewater division issued a standard operating procedure to employees Aug. 14 “to address staff responsibilities” and plans to retrain employees in how to use the Cityworks system.

Taylor DeVille covered Baltimore County government for The Baltimore Banner with a focus on the County Executive, County Council, accountability and quality of life issues affecting suburban residents. Before joining The Banner, Taylor covered Baltimore County government and breaking news for The Baltimore Sun.

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