JEFFERSON CITY - A Missouri Department of Transportation competition that awarded state employees prizes while they worked cost the state $870,525 over the last two years, according to a state audit released Monday.
MoDOT considers the employee competitions, known as "roadeos," as safety training exercises. However, not all employees were required to participate.
The audit recommended that the program be discontinued, but in the audit, MoDOT said the roadeos enhance safety training. But MoDOT said it decided in August to suspend the program as part of a cost-savings effort.
Jeff Briggs, MoDOT spokesman, said the roadeos were stopped in August as part of state budget cuts.
But, he said, "We've got to keep training each and every year and we're going to have to invest a significant amount of money in this training." He said the department would have to decide if it would keep a different form of the roadeo or create a new program altogether.
Over the last two years, the department spent at least $870,000 on the events, the audit says. Nearly all of those costs were paying wages to employees who attended, participated in, or judged the events, therefore spending time away from their normal road maintenance jobs.
Employees first would compete within each of the department's 10 districts. The winners from each district would proceed to the state competition every October. In 2001, the department paid to send winners from the state competitions to the national competition in Ohio.
Nearly 170 attending or participating employees spent an average of 17 hours in the state competition in 2000. Some employees charged up to three working days to it.
The prizes that employees could win included clothing, trophies and gift certificates of up to $150. At least $9,000 was spent on gift certificates alone.
The audit report also questions the legality of employees winning prizes under the Missouri Constitution. The constitution states that the General Assembly does not have the power to give extra compensation to a "public officer, agent, servant or contractor after service has been rendered."
Briggs, however, said MoDOT's legal counsel did not see awarding prizes as unconstitutional.
The auditor's office contacted several other states and found that many of them had discontinued similar programs. The audit says that other states found that the program was too expensive or not worth the costs associated with it.