Building permit employees may be charging customers different rates for similar projects, an internal city audit has found.

The 11-page report, released to the Audit Commission Monday, outlines a variety of problems, including the inequitable fee system. It's the second of four audits requested by Community Development Director Hassan Haghani of various sections under his supervision as the city grapples with tightened budgets and fewer staffers.

“Nothing that they said was a surprise,” Haghani said, adding that he had called in the city's auditor to review the division before implementing changes so as not to miss any room for improvement.

The audit states that there is no formal review process of the employees' data entry to ensure accuracy. As such, workers will sometimes modify fees based on their own interpretations.

“There is a risk that customers are not charged appropriately and there is a potential that the permit fee assessment process is open to circumvention of controls,” according to the audit, which states that the problem won't be fixed until next September.

Haghani said he expects it to take a year to change the fee process because employees rely on a computer system and it takes time to get the information services department to change the system.

“To improve it, we need some time to adjust organizationally,” he said.

Other issues laid out in the audit include low staffing, a non-team atmosphere in which employees don't help each other, and a faulty permit input system that does not have a copy/paste function and often lacks reliable summary results.

Budget reductions and retirements in 2012 decreased the permit technician and customer service representation staffing level by 36%. Currently, there are two full-time permit technicians and five full-time customer-service representatives.

On one Friday during the audit review, which occurred between March and May, there were four customer service representatives on duty, up to eight people standing and all available chairs filled with waiting customers. The permit counter is supposed to close at noon, but employees had to continue working into the afternoon hours.

“Front-line staff does not work together as a team and will not assist each other in completing tasks,” according to the audit.

Haghani said he is eager to begin making adjustments to the division.

The first audit, which also laid out a plethora of problems, dug into the Neighborhood Services Department's customer services arm, which oversees code compliance throughout the city, from fining those with artificial turf in their front yards to hoarders.

That audit, brought to the commission in March, found a range of problems, including redundant work flow, the collection of fees in an untimely manner and a broken after-hours calls service.

The next two audits are slated to review the inspection teams of the Neighborhood Services and Building and Safety divisions.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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