UTA fails to report $14.26M in retirement benefits
Earlier this year, the Utah Transit Authority officially reported that General Manager Michael Allegra’s total 2013 compensation was $346,249.
It turns out that was about $52,000 too low — because UTA had failed to include some retirement-pension benefits.
His compensation really was $397,900, including all salary, bonuses, benefits and leave.
Allegra was not alone. The UTA erroneously omitted reporting a combined total of $14.26 million in retirement benefits for all its employees — about a third of all the employee benefits it paid, according to corrected data it is now posting.
Just the top 20 highest-paid UTA employees had their compensation underreported by a combined total of $666,103, or an average of $33,300 each.
The UTA corrected its reports without fanfare on the state’s transparency website over the weekend. But The Salt Lake Tribune was notified by managers of that website that UTA “was required by external auditors to include additional benefit costs not previously included in the amounts submitted to the transparency website.”
So the administrators warned the Tribune that it might want to update UTA pay data on Utahsright.com, a website the newspaper manages on a variety of public data including public salaries.
UTA spokesman Remi Barron said the changes pertain “only to retirement benefits.”
He explained that UTA submitted corrected data “to comply with new reporting requirements to the transparency website that went into effect last year. The previous regulations did not require agencies to report certain retirement and pension information.”
He explained that UTA previously paid money into pension funds in one lump sum, without figuring precisely how much was for each employee.
“It wasn’t required until earlier this year that these payments to the pension be individually attributed. In past years, we did it in a lump sum and that is all that we were required to do [report]. We didn’t realize that they had changed the requirements,” he said in an interview.
“So we had to go through a process of calculating an amount attributed to each employee,” he said in an email.
Barron said the change was not “ordered” by outside auditors but was “in response to changes in the reporting requirements to the transparency website.”
But, Barron said, “The issue was reviewed by legislative auditors who have been conducting an audit for the past several months” on UTA operations.
That performance audit of UTA is scheduled to be released next week, and the Legislative Management Committee has scheduled a hearing on it for Aug. 26.
UTA’s executive salaries and bonuses have been controversial, especially as the agency has supported efforts to raise the sales tax for transit by saying it is needed to expand bus service that was cut amid the recession and to help cover the cost of new rail lines. Some critics have contended that UTA should cut its salaries first.
The 2013 compensation for Allegra — who was recently given the expanded title of president, CEO and general manager of UTA — included a salary of $178,881, a $30,000 bonus, paid leave of $49,677 and benefits (such as insurance and pension) of $139,412.
In comparison, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s total compensation package in 2013 was $151,294, less than half of some UTA executives, with no bonus included.
Barron said UTA is “not out there actively seeking a tax increase,” and he said that is a matter for the Legislature and other governments.
UTA testified in favor of an unsuccessful bill this year that would have raised the current cap on sales tax for transit and would have allowed counties to hold elections on raising those taxes.
Also, the UTA board has set an official goal of seeking full funding for the state’s unified 2040 transportation plan and new transit and transportation projects in it.
UTA officials have testified to the Legislature that plan would require raising sales tax for transit to a penny per $1 purchase. It is now 0.69 cents per $1 in Salt Lake County; 0.55 cents in Utah, Davis, Weber and Box Elder counties; and 0.3 cents in Tooele County.