Assigned to look after trees near Spadina Ave., the work crew contracted by the city left the yard in the Port Lands where it had begun the day and headed straight to Gerrard Square shopping centre. Maybe they needed a tool at Home Depot. Or maybe not.A City of Toronto audit found that some crews contracted to trim trees were were spending time in coffee shops and other places where there were no trees to trim. (City of Toronto)Over the course of the morning, the crew watered 18 trees for 171 minutes, but reported it as 215 minutes of work. In the afternoon they spent two and half hours driving places apparently unrelated to the job. They said they watered five trees at two locations. A GPS report says they didn’t even stop.In fact, an audit of crews hired by the city to look after trees found that more than half of a sample group spent too much time at malls and coffee shops and not enough time doing the work they were paid to do. They bypassed trees assigned for care to stop instead at residential homes, plazas and streets with no trees.In a scathing report to the city, the audit pegged the cost in lost productivity at about $2.6 million a year.Angered by the news, Mayor John Tory said Tuesday he wants the city to look into legal proceedings to see if it can recover some of the money from the contractors, and questioned whether the companies involved should be disqualified from doing business with the city.In one example highlighted by the city, a tree crew started their day by going to Gerrard Square shopping centre, and went on to make a number of questionable stops. (Auditor General)“We’ve got to go back after the ones who didn’t do work they were charging us for,” said Tory.The city has approximately 10.2 million trees and the urban forestry department uses both contractors and in-house city crews for tree maintenance work. It currently contracts three companies, which provide daily tree maintenance services, including pruning, watering and removal, at an annual contract cost of approximately $20 million, or $1.7 million a month. The report doesn’t identify any particular company as responsible for the questionable work.Crews are required to keep logs of what they do during their eight-hour workday, but when the audit compared those logs to information from the Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on their vehicles it found discrepancies in 28 out of 45 cases. In 28 of 45 sampled logs — 62 per cent — the auditor found only 2.8 hours in the work day included work time at tree-service locations consistent with the GPS reports. The audit found that the time spent at these locations far exceeded the 60 minutes the crews are allowed to take for lunch and breaks. In another example, the audit found a crew They then stopped near the assigned tree areas for 2.8 hours, but reported it as 5.7 hours for pruning four trees and waiting for parked vehicles on the street to be moved. (Auditor General)In one case, a crew started the day by going to a coffee shop and gas station that were not related to work, according to the audit. They then stopped near the assigned tree areas for 2.8 hours, but reported it as 5.7 hours for pruning four trees and waiting for parked vehicles on the street to be moved. The GPS also revealed they drove to a school, park, and down residential streets not shown in the daily log and which did not appear to be work-related. In another example, a crew left an assigned location at around 11:30 a.m. and then made stops at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and drove through side streets and residential areas that did not appear to be related to city work, before returning to the city yard at 2:40 p.m. to end the day. The total time that should have been questioned was 2.2 hours including driving time, according to the report. In another example the auditor reported, the crew made stops at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and drove through side streets and residential areas that did not appear to be related to city work. (Auditor General)In the city’s tendering document, contractors are required to provide a GPS report for all crews’ vehicles when requested. The audit could not conduct the same review of city crews because the city’s urban forestry vehicles are not equipped with GPS systems. But a review of a sample of 139 daily logs from both the city and contractor crews noted further problems — 41 per cent — had missing data or contained entries that should have been questioned, including time reported at locations with no trees and time spent watering tree stumps. The report also found that supervision is inadequate — too few inspections were being carried out and when they were done they weren’t being done correctly. Forepersons are required to perform random site inspections but instead often called crews ahead of time to let them know they were coming.“This undermines the effectiveness of the inspections in verifying the actual onsite maintenance work,” the report says.The report also found that crews spent a large amount of time on tasks other than looking after trees, including 60 minutes a day spent waiting for assignments and handing in activity logs; 93 minutes a day on driving and 15 minutes to 3.5 hours a day spent waiting for parked vehicles on streets to be moved to access trees. It recommended ways to trim the amount of time spent on supporting activities. Parks, Forestry and Recreation declined to comment on the report, pointing instead to a detailed management response appended to the bottom of the audit.In that response, management says it is working on a new work management system with implementation scheduled to begin in late 2019.The report found that while there was high compliance with storm cleanup requests (97 per cent), and reasonably good compliance with tree planting requests (88 per cent) and general tree pruning requests (90 per cent), there was low compliance with tree removal requests (62 per cent).“This is probably due to the multiple steps involved in a complete removal of a tree,” according to the report. The report also pointed out that creating inaccurate maintenance records for a tree could have adverse long-term effects, because it may be at least another seven years before the tree receives its next scheduled maintenance. The report, which includes recommendations for reform, will be considered by the city’s audit committee Friday. With files from David RiderFrancine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunFTOP STORIES, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.