State pays big bucks for wasted space

Workforce services » Thousands spent to lease empty offices, while benefits to poor are cut. .
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Utah taxpayers are paying $83,000 a year to rent an office suite bigger than a basketball court in Kanab -- the workplace for just two employees in the Department of Workforce Services.

It's just slightly larger than a similar office in Logan that DWS pays $72,000 a year to rent and doesn't use at all.

And in Panguitch, three employees share eight offices, four bathrooms and a conference room that is rarely used.

A legislative audit this week questioned the need for the glut of leased space in a total of seven buildings and said the cash-strapped department could save $630,000 a year if it consolidated offices and did not renew leases for some of the buildings.

A similar report this month from the Legislature's fiscal analyst recommended moving or negotiating better deals for eight offices in Beaver, Emery County, Kanab, Moab, Nephi, Panguitch, Price and Roy and consolidate a total of 11 offices down to five locations.

The department agrees that in some cases it has more space than it needs and says it's looking for efficiencies, but it wants flexibility to make sure it can meet the demand for services.

Several of the leases expire next year although some, like the lease for space in Panguitch, extends through 2013.

In the future, DWS executive director Kristen Cox told lawmakers, the department plans to sign three-year leases instead of five-year agreements so the department has more flexibility.

"There's just too many opportunities for people to consolidate" operations, she said.

The department says it has tried to terminate the lease on the Logan office space, but has been unable to do so. It will not renew the lease when it expires in 2011. It has space in St. George, as well, that it is subleasing to the State Office of Rehabilitation, but it is losing money on the deal.

The department has already whittled its number of facilities from 106 down to 49. Thirty-one of them are leased.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he gets the sense that DWS will streamline its operations, but is limited by the leases it has already signed.

The department's mission is to help find jobs, welfare benefits, child care assistance and other benefits for needy or out-of-work Utahns.

It suffered a $14 million deficit at the end of last fiscal year and is projected to come up $8 million short this year, as it tries to meet spikes in demands -- a 42 percent increase in food stamps, a 101 percent increase in unemployment benefits and a 120 percent increase in job training.

Due to budgetary constraints, the department announced on Tuesday that after the first of the year it would deny any new applicants for its General Assistance program, created to provide small, short-term payments to disabled individuals unable to work.

Big offices, small staff

The following are examples cited by auditors of Department of Workforce Services offices around the state that are being under-utilized and should be relocated or have leases renegotiated:

» Emery County: $126,000/year lease, 7,442 sq. feet of office space, 6 employees

» Kanab: $83,000/year lease, 4,887 sq. feet of office space, 2 employees

» Logan: $72,000/year lease, 4,139 sq. feet of office space, 0 employees

» South Davis: $249,000/year lease, 10,994 sq. feet of office space, 29 employees

» Nephi: $56,448/year lease, 3,154 sq. feet of office space, 5 employees

» Panguitch: $36,613/year lease, 2,169 sq. feet of office space, 3 employees

» Tooele: $151,781/year lease, 8,121 sq. feet of office space, 12 employees

» Moab: $195,600/year lease, 7,969 sq. feet of office space, 17 employees

» Price: $324,500/year lease, 17,151 sq. feet of office space, 31 employees

» Beaver: $28,700/year lease, 1,960 sq. feet of office space, 3 employees

» Roy: $374,400/year lease, 16,197 sq. feet of office space, 42 employees

Sources: Legislative Auditor General and Office of Legislative Fiscal Analyst reports