Officials overseeing maintenance of Colorado's vehicle fleet admit there are problems with tracking costs and improper payments. But on Wednesday they defended some of the stranger findings in a recent critical audit in a Rocky Mountain News story dated February 3. The Department of Personnel and Administration, which oversees maintenance on about 5,500 state-owned vehicles, concurred with a state auditor's report released a day earlier that found some double payments for services. And it agreed that its tracking system doesn't tabulate prices for some individual services when they're bundled under a flat price, resulting in reports of oil changes for as little as 25 cents. But the state's fleet management office said Wednesday that $609 is a standard price for an oil change - when you're dealing with a semi-tractor. In written responses to questions from the Rocky Mountain News, officials with the Department of Personnel and Administration, the agency that oversees the fleet maintenance division, said the auditor's report failed to point out that the highest-cost oil change was for a big-rig truck. Similarly, a reported high price of $521 for a tuneup was for a vehicle with an alternative-fuel engine, not a standard gasoline engine, the officials said in the report. "The $609 oil change was an actual oil change on a semi-tractor and represents a standard cost for this type of vehicle," the department said in its response. "The $521 tuneup was for an alternative-fuel vehicle and represents a standard cost for this type of vehicle. "The audit report failed to differentiate data for standard passenger vehicles from nonstandard or oversized vehicles. Even with these higher-cost vehicles, the fleet average was $27.70 for oil changes and $32 for tuneups." But fleet maintenance officials said it would be difficult to change some current accounting practices without more staffing. The cost of some simple jobs are included in a flat rate as part of a larger package of combined services, and to break the costs out individually would take too much time. But the agency's software requires that a price be entered for each service, so 1 cent or another nominal amount is used as a place holder. "The level of detailed analysis of specific maintenance work suggested by the Office of the State Auditor is not practical with our current staff when managing approximately 5,500 vehicles," the department said in its response to the audit. State vehicles sometimes are serviced in-house by the various agencies that use them, but sometimes private garages do the work. In such cases, including those where prices are agreed upon in advance, mechanic shops are supposed to contact state fleet maintenance to get approval first. Tony DeVito, a resident engineer at the Colorado Department of Transportation who drives a state Jeep Cherokee assigned to him, said the rules are strict enough that when his vehicle needs tires or a windshield replacement, the private repair shop has to adhere to a state-approved range of items and prices. "It's not like I can go get Pirelli tires," he said. "They call state fleet maintenance and verify things to get approval first before anything goes on the vehicle." The legislative audit committee asked the department to report back in six months with changes it has made.
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