Legislators order hearing to address MARTA troubles State audit's findings on emissions program are called 'disconcerting'

September 13, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

State legislative leaders yesterday called a public hearing on reported problems with Maryland's Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program and on the planned sale of the company that runs the program.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said they are concerned about problems uncovered by state auditors and reported yesterday in The Sun. The audits, released at the newspaper's request and never distributed to legislators, found monetary irregularities, poor recordkeeping, inadequate staffing and malfunctioning inspection equipment.

The testing program is run by MARTA Technologies Inc. of Nashville, Tenn., under a five-year, $96.9 million contract with the state. The company is responsible for operating and maintaining 19 vehicle emissions inspections stations in 13 Maryland counties and Baltimore.

"The audits do give us concern," said Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat.

Miller said he was dismayed by the extent of MARTA's problems. "You expect that private enterprise is going to work more effectively than government. When you see private enterprise running in such a slipshod manner, it's extremely disconcerting, especially when what they're working on is a state program that was competitively bid," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

Ohio officials announced last month that they would terminate a contract with MARTA because of problems at emissions stations in Cincinnati.

In Maryland, the hearing called for yesterday is scheduled for Sept. 24 before the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building at 90 State Circle in Annapolis.

The committees may hear from motorists as well as officials from the state Motor Vehicle Administration, MARTA and Envirotest Systems Corp., a rival company that has announced plans to buy MARTA.

Legislators hope to find out how the planned sale will affect Maryland's program. They also want state officials to brief them on their audits, Taylor said.

In reports from October to July, auditors uncovered recordkeeping so poor that state officials could not adequately track the millions of dollars collected in inspection fees for a year. They also documented instances in which MARTA's reports of the fees it collected did not match the deposit slips for those days.

The audits found repeated and widespread malfunctions with the dynamometer, a treadmill-like device that tests a vehicle's emissions while being driven.

Under intense prodding by the state, MARTA has made strides since midsummer to improve bookkeeping, repair equipment and reduce the amount of time motorists spend waiting for testing, a state motor vehicle official has said.

Lawmakers will "examine MARTA from top to bottom and report to the legislature before the 1997 session," Miller said.

But opponents of emissions testing should not expect the program to be abolished, Miller added. "As much as I personally dislike the program, I recognize its goals are laudable."

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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