Rensselaerville to keep accounting firm contingent on new contract

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Anthony Fontanelli, operations supervisor for the Albany County Comptroller’s Office, speaks at a Rensselaerville Town Board workshop on what the town can do to protect itself financially.

RENSSELAERVILLE — Despite their wariness following the arrest of their supervisor for grand larceny, Rensselaerville Town Board members decided unanimously on Jan. 10 to continue using the accounting firm Pattison Koskey Howe & Bucci, on the condition of a new contract.

At the board’s workshop meeting on Jan. 8, representatives of both the firm and the Albany County Comptroller’s Office spoke about measures the town could take to prevent another situation like the one the town had gone through in December, in which then-supervisor Steven Pfleging admitted to taking $13,000 in town funds by writing checks to himself — the supervisor acted as both the person signing off on checks and reviewing the bank accounts. Such policy is set up by a municipality, not an accountant.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, newly-appointed Supervisor John Dolce said that he was torn; he said he believed there was a lack of accountability from the firm when the larceny occurred, but that the town needed to move forward, “and we can’t move forward on our own.”

Dolce told a resident seated in the gallery that he would be open to looking at other firms but said he wanted to first have new policies and procedures in place. He suggested a contract-renewal with “certain disclosures.”

Councilwoman Marion Cooke suggested that a special meeting be held to discuss what the board wants in a contract, while maintaining the firm as the town’s accountant in the meantime. She later made a motion to retain the firm contingent on the contract, which was approved by the board unanimously.

Board members were especially interested in having regular financial reports presented to them. Councilman Jason Rauf stressed having quarterly reports required in the contract.

Councilman Brian Wood, who was appointed to his position after Pfleging’s resignation, said he didn’t like the explanation that reports went unchecked because Pfleging was “just a new guy.” Wood said that a report could have alerted the board. Councilwoman Margaret Seidlmeier agreed. She said the firm seemed to have missed “a big red flag.”

Bradley Cummings, a shareholder at the accounting firm, said at the Jan. 8 meeting that the firm could issue reports for the town to review.

Nicole Bender, a Pattison accountant, said that the firm had contacted Pfleging when he did not turn in financial reports, but brushed off his lack of communication as a new supervisor not yet used to the job. Pfleging had started as supervisor on Jan. 1, 2018. She noted, too, the Rensselaerville, as a town gives a lot of responsibility to the supervisor.

Bender said that her primary contacts, until recently, have been Rensselaerville’s supervisor and bookkeeper.

She said that it took longer to receive a year-end report in part because of the town’s “financial shape in the past,” but said that the firm tried to contact Pfleging from June up until October when it finally received a report. She said that the town was contacted within 24 hours of finding out about the missing funds.

“There’s always a learning curve for a new supervisor … ,” Bender said. “So we kind of gave him a little slack.”

Pattison shareholder Cummings said that the firm expects to complete work for the previous year in May, but would like to see things done consistently and perhaps on a monthly basis with more comprehensive reports. He also suggested outsourcing the town’s payroll work because “they assume the risk” for what he said would be a low price.

Bender said that the accounting firm could not conduct an audit, and in fact what was described by the town as an audit that caught the larceny was not an audit.

Bender said that, when Pattison first started working for the town, which was about five years ago, there were “discrepancies of millions of dollars,” and the firm had to assume a role of research and reconciliation. Cummings later said this was addressed by the state.

A state audit in 2013 concluded that “the town’s accounting records are in poor condition and do not provide an accurate portrait of its financial condition. In fact, Rensselaerville’s general fund was overstated by a total of $247,036 in fiscal year 2011, which was 30 percent of the budgeted revenues.

A state audit in 2016 was favorable.

Anthony Fontanelli, the operations supervisor for the county comptroller’s office, said that one of the main issues was the small number of staff involved in the town’s finances — two or three people, including the supervisor.

“That’s part of the problem,” he told both the town board and a packed gallery of people in the town hall. “It’s usually the problem.”

He acknowledged that the town has a limited amount of staff to use, however, but said that the town government needs to be prepared if someone is incapacitated, as well as the need for “checks and balances.”

There was little discussion by the speakers about the use of time clocks, which was discussed by board members after they left. The meeting was heavily attended by both Westerlo and Rensselaerville residents, as discussions about the use of time clocks in Westerlo have picked after Westerlo Councilman Richard Filkins proposed a resolution to have town hall employees start to use a time clock.

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