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Railroad commission on a spending spree

Jeff Plale

After his office spent more than 70 percent of its annual supplies budget in three month, state Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale said he’ll curb expenses to avoid exceeding the threshold.

The state’s Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, as of Sept. 29, had already spent $44,078.16 of its $61,500 supplies and services budget. But with nearly nine months remaining in the fiscal year, Plale says overspending is not an option.

“I can tell you this, we haven’t exceeded our budget,” he said, “we’re not targeted to, and we absolutely will not exceed out budget.

Plale, who was appointed to the post Aug. 29, was alerted of the budget issue in a Sept. 30 memo from Anne Olson, financial services director for the state’s Public Service Commission. The memo was first reported by The Capital Times.

“I’ve been here a hair over a month,” Plale said, “I’m still kind of getting my feet on the ground.

“It’s not ideal, but I don’t think it’s anything I can’t get my hands on and around and get controlled.”

When contacted Friday, Olson deferred to PSC Spokesman Matthew Pagel, who did not immediately return a request seeking comment.

Plale, who oversees a staff of five at the PSC building on Madison’s west side, said the office’s largest expense ($6,198.50 for new Dell computers) actually occurred last fiscal year, but was not paid until this fiscal year.

“I don’t know what the IT situation was like prior, but I had heard that it was in need of upgrade,” he said. “Normally in an agency, an IT upgrade, when you do it in a small batch like that, it doesn’t put much of a dent. When you have a tiny agency, it’s a bigger hit.”

The former state Senator from Milwaukee said the only discipline to occur as a result of the quick spending was the revocation of a state purchasing card from a staff member.

In her memo, Olson said the state Department of Administration, in a routine audit, flagged purchases made by Beth Piliouras.

“The P-Card was assigned to Beth for photo processing costs,” Olson wrote. “However, recent P-Card purchases have been for a variety of non-photo related items and have not followed required processes. Examples include office supply, furniture and custom framing purchases.”

Olson also stated the P-Card was used at Office Depot Inc. while the state has an office supplies contract with Staples Inc.

As a means to increase financial oversight, Plale said he’ll be meeting with Olson on a monthly basis from now on to review office spending.

“It’s a good exercise with me because it forces me to see every single expenditure that goes on here,” he said. “It’s something I requested. I just think it’d be a good idea that we touch base on a regular basis.”

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