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State audit finds room for possible MTA savings

As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority struggles to close its budget gap with layoffs, service cuts and fare hikes, it is potentially wasting millions of dollars by not properly managing its real estate holdings - including some buildings that have sat empty for years, a state audit revealed Thursday.

Meanwhile, MTA officials, who called the audit "timely" because it comes as the agency is trying to save money, Thursday announced plans to save another $10 million by consolidating several redundant functions, such as combining five customer call centers into one.

The audit, released by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, found several areas in which the MTA has failed to get the most value of its numerous properties.

They include: Making "no attempt to estimate the value of many of its holdings"; failing to market many vacant rental units it owns; not collecting late fees and interest payments from tenants late on their rent; and spending $25 million to lease space from others while not evaluating if the MTA's own vacant properties "would meet its needs."

The MTA also is paying more than $600,000 in real estate taxes on some properties, even though it is legally exempt from having to do so, according to the audit. The report also found that the MTA has spent more than $6 million to maintain one vacant building in Brooklyn and another nearly vacant one in Mineola, because the renovation of the Brooklyn building and the sale of the Mineola one have been delayed.

In a written response to DiNapoli's office, the MTA disputed many of the findings - including that it does not consider using its own vacant properties before leasing new space or try to enforce its tax-exempt status. It said it would consider some recommendations, including that it develop a strategic marketing plan for vacant properties.

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