County orders operational audit of scenic railroad

This 2014 file photo shows the Western Maryland Railway Station. Allegany County commissioners voted Thursday, May 24, 2018, to approve a measure ordering an operational audit of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

CUMBERLAND — The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad will undergo an operational audit by Pennsylvania-based Stone Consulting Inc. after the Allegany County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the measure at Thursday night’s business meeting. 

“We welcome the audit,” scenic railroad Executive Director John Garner said during the meeting.

In addition to Garner, scenic railroad board member Mike Brant and the company’s director of human resources, Diana Howard, attended the meeting.

Officials said the need for the audit came after the scenic railroad requested an increase in county funding in the fiscal year 2019 budget. The scenic railroad asked for $200,000, an increase of $60,000 over last year, for maintenance costs associated with replacing railroad ties.

“As you would recall,” county administrator Brandon Butler said to commissioners on Thursday, “we discussed the need for an operational audit on your deliberations regarding the fiscal year 2019 budget.”

Butler said he has since spoken with a variety of community members concerning the need for the audit, as well as officials at the scenic railroad.

“Since we spoke of this, I have had numerous conversations with interested citizens, former employees and enthusiasts who are singularly dedicated to one thing — the success of the scenic railroad.”

“I’ve also been able to sit for many hours with Mr. Garner and members of the board of directors of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, and it is clear to me that they too want nothing but the best for this railroad.”

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad has experienced a number of costly issues over the past couple years, such as a landslide and theft by an employee. Butler acknowledged the railroad’s struggles while emphasizing the nonprofit’s need for monetary transparency.

“It’s no secret that the railroad has had its challenges and its setbacks,” he said. “However, communication and transparency goes a long way, for both the relationship for Allegany County government and the community at large. This operational audit is one step in that direction to allow professionals with a fresh set of eyes some time with the capable staff of the railroad so that we can all find a path forward.”

Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.

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