State auditors advise Rensselaerville on finances

Steve Pfleging

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Steve Pfleging mans the grill at last summer’s town picnic in Rensselaerville. 

RENSSELAERVILLE — After Rensselaerville’s supervisor Steve Pfleging  stole town funds almost a year ago, and resigned, state auditors have made recommendations on how the town may better protect its finances.

The current supervisor, John Dolce, said in a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27, that auditors from the New York State Comptroller’s Office gave verbal recommendations recently on the town’s finances and assets, although they have yet to issue a final report. Dolce reviewed his notes on the recommendations with the rest of the town board at the meeting.

“Some of these I didn’t even want to read to you,” Dolce later said, pointing out some proposals that seemed to be irrelevant, such as when town Clerk Victoria Kraker noted that she already has a third and fourth copy of cash receipts in the form of a logbook and computer entry.

But the town board did discuss implementing other proposals, such as creating resolutions stating exactly what reserve accounts are to be used for and reviewing a monthly treasurer’s report at board meetings.

In December, Pfleging resigned, admitting his guilt, after he was arrested and charged with stealing around $13,000 from the town. An audit conducted by a private accounting firm contracted with the town, Pattison, Koskey, Howe and Bucci, revealed Pfleging had been writing checks to himself since February 2018. He had taken office on Jan. 1, 2018.

Since then, the town board has reviewed its agreement with Pattison, Koskey, Howe and Bucci due to the delay in finding that funds were missing, as well as spoken with an official from the Albany County Comptroller’s Office. In January, the board unanimously agreed to request an “in-house audit” from the state comptroller’s office.

The state auditors addressed not only finances, but other assets as well, including tires at the transfer station that are left unsecured. The auditors also said the town does not track the diesel fuel used by town workers, who each have keys to access the fuel for their town trucks.

Dolce also said he had to speak with town recycling coordinator Jon Witbeck because Witbeck, a salaried employee, had been following the same protocol on vacation time as the unionized highway workers and getting paid for any unused vacation time. Dolce said there is no documentation that Witbeck is allowed to do this, and said he told Witbeck he would have to use his vacation time this year or lose it. Councilwoman Marion Cooke said there had been a “big ruckus” on the subject a while back. Witbeck could not be reached for comment before press time.

Councilman Jason Rauf said that, in his opinion, the town should offer the same vacation policy to Witbeck; reading from the policy, Cooke noted that it would be up to 60 hours of vacation time. Dolce said that, regardless of the policy, it would need to be in writing.

Dolce also said the auditors had noted there was no policy on procedures or rates for water and sewer services. Kraker said that she and the deputy clerk base billing on the properties that were billed the previous year, and the rates based on what the town has budgeted.

The billing rate is also based on the number of faucets in a home, and the board discussed whether the town would be able to base rates on usage. Kraker said her office would be working with Bill Benson, who chairs the independently operated water and sewer committee, on updating the procedure.

Dolce said that the auditors spent much of their time working with the three town assessors. After reviewing exemptions, the auditors noted that there were some errors such as some veterans who were not receiving veteran exemptions.

Town assessor Donna Kropp, who attended the meeting along with assessor Kathleen Wank, said that, while agricultural and senior exemptions are renewed annually, veteran exemptions are applied for once.

Auditors came across veterans that hadn’t applied for exemption; Dolce said it was suggested that veterans be informed each year to apply or update their information. He added that auditors discovered that some people with school-tax-relief, or STAR exemptions, had more than one home in two different states. Kropp said that this was a single person, adding she didn’t want the findings to appear to be “horrendous, like they’re making it sound.” Wank added that the state is now administering the STAR program.

Dolce noted the auditors had questioned accepting donations from the Preston Hollow Park Committee without any oversight. Kropp said she felt the auditors didn’t seem to understand the nature of a small town.

“They forget we’re a small community … ,” said Kropp. “We trust each other.”

Later, when discussing whether Witbeck should be coming into town hall to issue receipts for items collected at the transfer station, or have a cash box, Kropp again commented that it felt as if the town wasn’t trusting anyone. Cooke, alluding to Pfleging, responded that they had trusted someone once.

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