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DOT improperly paid workers on TZ Bridge project for commuting expenses, comptroller says

ALBANY – The state Department of Transportation improperly paid close to $321,000 to eight employees working on the new Tappan Zee Bridge project for their commute to work in Tarrytown, even after an internal audit identified it as inappropriate, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

As a result of the improper travel reimbursement, DOT may have failed to report some $227,000 in travel expenses to the proper taxing authorities for the three calendar years 2009-2011. According to the IRS, reimbursements for commuting are taxable and are never excludable from income. From June 2010 through September 2011, the workers were reimbursed $101,706 for personal car mileage, tolls and other travel expenses.

In August 2007, DOT selected property in Tarrytown for the TZ Bridge project office. DOT then assigned eight employees to work at that office, but designated Poughkeepsie as each worker’s official station. That was an incorrect decision, DiNapoli said. Because the project office is about 55 miles from Poughkeepsie and more than 35 miles from each employee’s home and official station, DOT inappropriately allowed those employees to claim car mileage and toll costs for their commute from their homes to Tarrytown and back each day.

DOT officials acknowledged the official station designation of Poughkeepsie was incorrect and attributed the problem to administrative error. DOT officials said managers involved were unaware of state travel guidelines and the agency lacked sufficient formal policy for the designation of employees’ official station.

DOT has agreed with auditors’ recommendations and has expressed its commitment to resolving the issues.