Knox submits ‘infamous’ 2016 annual report, years late

KNOX — After a long and controversial delay, the town of Knox submitted its 2016 financial report to New York State on Wednesday, Feb. 13. The 2017 and 2018 reports have yet to be submitted, according to an official from the Office of the State Comptroller.

Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis had said at meetings last year that the report was already on file with the comptroller’s office. At February’s town board meeting, Lefkaditis — to a standing-room-only crowd — described the 2016 report as “infamous” after residents were critical of his delay in submitting it. He became supervisor on Jan. 1, 2016.

According to Brian Butry, deputy press secretary for the comptroller’s office, the town is still working with the comptroller’s office to file the annual reports for 2017 and 2018. An audit of the town, which Lefkaditis had said at the December board meeting was random, was undertaken in part because Knox had failed to submit its reports; it is still scheduled but will likely occur this spring, said Butry.

At Knox’s Feb. 13 town board meeting, held hours after the report had been submitted on Wednesday, residents spoke up from the gallery, inquiring about the financial reports. Resident Timothy Fischer asked about the 2016 report as well as the audit that will be conducted by the comptroller’s office.

Joan Adriance, the wife of one of the three transfer-station workers fired on New Year’s Day, said from the audience she had contacted the comptroller’s office at 3:08 p.m. on Feb. 13 and was told the office had not received the report. Traci Schanz, the town clerk, said the town’s accounting clerk, Catherine Bates, had given her the report around 3:15 p.m. that day.

Jean Gagnon, a former town justice, read a statement for resident Brigitte McAuliffe, who was absent, documenting around nine months of inquiries McAuliffe had made to the town supervisor about the reports, including an initial statement from the supervisor that the 2016 report was on file and that McAuliffe’s finding that it was missing was incorrect.

“This is four pages, Jean,” Lefkaditis said before she read it.

“No, it’s not four pages, Vas; it’s three pages,” said Gagon. “And some of it I’m going to skip over.”

Gagnon said that the meeting minutes from May 2018 back up McAuliffe’s statement; the minutes say that the supervisor, in response to McAuliffe’s concerns about the report not being filed “stated 2016 was filed in 2017, 2017 is on extension being filed in 2018, and the extension was approved in February.”

“It’s one thing if somebody makes a mistake and says ‘I made a mistake — ,’” said Gagon.

“Jean, do you have a comment to the board, or are you going to lecture the audience?” asked the supervisor.

“My comment to the board is that it’s not good when things are not told as — that are not true,” she said, to applause.

Councilman Earl Barcomb told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he took issue with the supervisor lying about filing the 2016 report.

“Our supervisor told us multiple times he had filed the report and he hadn’t … I just think that that’s a big problem,” he said.

At last month’s meeting, on Jan. 9, Lefkaditis offered a lengthy explanation as to why the reports had not yet been filed, and also had said that the 2016 report would be filed the following Monday, Jan. 14. The supervisor said that he had been focusing on other financial issues like obtaining grants and getting better deals on workers’ compensation, and also brought up an incident that came to light in 2017 in which the former town attorney had mistakenly renewed a bond anticipation note illegally.

Lefkaditis said at the February meeting that, while filing the 2016 annual report, he discovered “significant deficiencies” in the 2015 report, which had been filed by the previous supervisor, Michael Hammond. Lefkaditis said that the town overstated its assets by over $1 million in 2015.

However, Mark Johnson, a press officer for the comptroller’s office, told The Enterprise that the department reviewed the 2015 report in the summer of 2016 and the town “provided adequate responses to the questions at that time.”

The supervisor has frequently attributed problems to the previous administration, helmed by his long-time predecessor, Hammond. In 2017, after an auditor was told that the town did not have building inspection reports on file for 2016, Lefkaditis said that the problem dated back to Hammond’s administration. A Freedom of Information Law request made by The Enterprise revealed that a majority of inspection forms from Jan. 1, 2014, to July 1, 2017 — spanning both Hammond’s and Lefkaditis’s administrations — had blank checklists where building inspections were to be marked; several inspection reports and building permits also lacked signatures.

At the Feb. 13 meeting, Lefkaditis also deflected to the previous administration when questioned again by residents about firing of three transfer station workers (see related story). When residents pointed to a conflict of interest with the town attorney responding to the county’s Civil Service office about the three fired town workers while the attorney’s father-in-law was hired for one of the posts, Lefkaditis responded that, when he had started as supervisor, more than a dozen town workers were related to someone in a town office.

Lefkaditis also said at the Feb. 13 meeting that currently the comptroller’s office had suggested that the town pool together items that would add up to $500 or less and to count them that way. He said the other issue was estimating the value of items like vehicles based on the amount they were bought for when their values decrease over time.

The Enterprise obtained a copy of the report from the comptroller’s office on Friday. Butry noted the numbers have not yet been verified. On Tuesday, the town clerk notified The Enterprise that the report is now available on the town’s website.

Johnson said that an examiner in the comptroller’s office is currently reviewing the report to determine if any inquiries need to be made to the town. Prior year adjustments are explained in a later section of the report, he said, although there does appear to be a change in fixed assets between the 2015 and 2016 reports.

“The Town would be the best source of information to explain this change, and even once our review is complete, it will be based on information supplied by the Town,” Johnson wrote to The Enterprise in an email on Tuesday.

The unverified 2016 report shows Knox had around half-a-million dollars each in assets, expenditures, and revenues in the town’s general fund; a little over $1 million in the highway fund; and around $3,000 in the town’s lighting fund. Capital projects had around $400,000 reported for revenues, $300,000 for expenditures, but about $24,000 reported for assets. The amount of funds reported for fixed assets — land, buildings, and machinery — was about $3 million. Agency assets were around $1,600.

The report lists three bond anticipation notes, two for equipment purchases in 2016 and one for a capital project in 2010. The total collateral under Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance was $250,000. The total amounts under the town bank accounts were reported to be a little over $1 million. Employee and retiree benefits totaled around $220,000. Energy expenditures were around $30,000.

Meeting minutes disputed

The minutes, which serve as an official record, of the January town board meeting were approved, 3 to 2, with councilman Dennis Barber and Barcomb voting “no.” Barber and Barcomb are Democrats while the other two council members, Karl Pritchard and Kenneth Saddlemire, were elected on the Republican line along with Lefkaditis.

The vote was taken after Adriance read a statement from the gallery, detailing her concerns that the minutes did not include her full statement about the town clerk being unable to issue hunting licenses. At the January meeting, Adriance described a conversation with a Department of Environmental Conservation official in which she said the official wondered why Clerk Schanz had waited so long to start the training needed to issue licenses.

Schanz said at the Feb. 13 meeting that she has done the necessary training and is waiting to hear from DEC. She said that the “intent” of the letter was included in the minutes but, since Adriance’s full statement referenced a conversation with the DEC official she couldn’t confirm, she declined to include it in full.

Barcomb commented that the clerk shouldn’t be “picking and choosing” what statements to include, while Lefkaditis noted that the clerk, by law, has to record only resolutions and votes. He also remarked that he has been satisfied with Schanz’s minutes after “two years of barbed minutes,” referencing conflicts he has had with former town clerk, Tara Murphy, a Democrat. Schanz was elected on the GOP line along with Lefkaditis.

Gagnon, a Democrat who, like Murphy, had lost her reelection bid in the landslide that brought a Republican majority to the town board for the first time in decades, defended Murphy. Gagnon noted that the minutes used to be very specific, in particular regarding public comments, and said that they can be used as a public record to be referenced even decades later.

An audience member later asked what recourse the people had to hold officials accountable if statements were entered into the record at the clerk’s discretion.

“November, that’s your official recourse,” said Lefkaditis.

Other business

In addition, the board also:

— Unanimously approved a new ethics law that the supervisor described as “cookie cutter” in its policies;

— Appointed John Wright to the Zoning Board Of Appeals;

— Discussed purchasing a bus for youth and senior services;

— Discussed a retention policy for security footage;

— Heard from Councilman Saddlemire that the New York Power Authority is conducting an audit so that the town can continue its process of receiving money from its Clean Energy Communities grant;

— Heard from Barcomb that legislation is being drafted by state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and Senator George Amedore to give Knox home rule over speed limits; and

— Heard from Saddlemire that he has gotten four residents registered with the county’s 9-1-1 registry, three more than had been registered earlier this year. The registry provides help to elderly residents or those with disabilities during an emergency.


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