Taxpayer property disappears from government facilities

Computers, radios, construction equipment among missing items

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – By the time county auditors completed their most recent inventory check of computers, firefighting gear, landscaping equipment, shop tools, office furniture and other government property, they were able to locate most of the 49,600 items tracked by the Orange County Comptroller's Office.

But nearly 200 items were missing.

More than 25 computers, 16 portable radios, and a dozen printers assigned to a variety of county departments could not be found.

[View each counties missing property database: Orange I Marion I Flagler I City of Orlando I Brevard I Osceola]

Three mannequins used to train emergency responders in advanced life support techniques were gone.  So was a smoke machine used in firefighter training.

Two Tasers and a Glock handgun purchased for the county’s jail had vanished.

A large ice machine that had once been located in a public works facility was missing, too.

Although the original value of items that could not be located in 2016 totaled more than $300,000, county auditors consider that figure to be relatively low considering their office monitors about $400 million worth of government property.

"Percentage-wise, it’s very good," said Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond.  "But from time to time, something will be lost or broken."

As the state's only elected comptroller, Diamond serves as an independent watchdog of county government, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are safeguarded.

"Whether its trucks, cars, construction equipment, computers, office furniture, whatever, there's a lot of value.  And we want to protect that value," said Diamond, a certified public accountant and former Orlando City Commissioner who was elected to the post last fall.

Throughout the year, Diamond's staff visits nearly every county department to verify that all property valued at more than $500 is still on the premises.

"We make sure everybody knows, whether it’s the taxpayer or somebody working in the county, that we check to make sure everything is there," Diamond told News 6.

In some cases, Diamond's property accountants discover an item has been misplaced, discarded, or traded in without previously being documented.

On a few occasions, the staff has learned the county was the victim of theft.

In 2014, auditors noted that a backhoe used by Orange County Utilities had been stolen from a storage yard.
With an original purchase price of $80,000, that backhoe is the most expensive piece of equipment that has disappeared in the past five years, county records show.

When a theft like that occurs, the comptroller works with department managers to better protect the county assets.

"A decision was made to move some heavy equipment so it would be better secured," the comptroller said about the stolen backhoe, which had been previously reported to law enforcement.

The three weapons missing from the Orange County Corrections Department were also the result of theft reported to law enforcement, according to an agency spokesperson.  The gun was stolen from a correctional officer’s home during a burglary.  One of the missing Tasers had been taken from an officer’s burglarized vehicle.   The other Taser was removed from the officer’s garage, according to the department.

Although Diamond's role as an independent auditor is unique among the state's local governments, many other Central Florida municipalities also track missing property.

Over a three year period, the City of Orlando reported 204 lost items, including several pieces of artwork depicting former Magic player Dwight Howard.

A Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle used by the Orlando Police Department was among 15 additional items that had been stolen, Orlando records show.

Brevard County government officials documented less than 60 missing items over a five year period, ten of which were reported stolen including an ocean rescue sled.

Records provided by Flagler County to News 6 list only two missing items over a five year period: a $1,600 copy machine that was lost and a $1,200 notebook computer that had been reported stolen.

In Orange County, the comptroller believes his office's oversight of government property adds an additional level of accountability.

"It gives the taxpayer assurance that someone's looking out and making sure what's supposed to be there is there," said Diamond.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.