State audit likes how Rensselaerville pays its bills

RENSSELAERVILLE — Town officials got a pat on the back recently in the form of a state audit — released last month — of how the town tracks and pays its bills.

State auditors studied the paper trail of how  the town processed and paid 49 claims totaling $334,406 over a 15-month period beginning Jan. 1, 2015 and ending May 31, 2016.

The claims examined were a random sampling from a total of 1,232 bills paid during that period for a total outlay of $2.8 million.

The audit followed the trail from the receipt of a bill to its payment, evaluating all the procedures in place along the way.

The audit’s conclusion: “The [town] board established an effective claims auditing process to ensure that claims were properly audited before payment and supported by adequate documentation, that the goods and services  were received, and that the claims were for proper town purposes.”

This was a marked contrast to the state comptroller’s audit conducted three years ago. That audit  looked at the town’s financial records for 2011 and part of 2012. The current town supervisor Valerie Lounsbury was appointed to the post by the town board in February of 2012 when Marie Dermody resigned. Lounsbury was then elected in 2013 to complete Dermody’s term and  in the 2013 election won a full four-year term.

That earlier audit found  that layers of accounting practices spread over several years had generated inaccurate financial records and overstated tax revenues; required reports had not been filed with the state; online bank accounts had ineligible users; and an “improper” road machinery fund was created.

It concluded  that “the town’s accounting records are in poor condition and do not provide an accurate portrait of its financial condition. In fact, the town’s general fund was overstated by a total of $247,036  in fiscal year 2011, which was 30 percent of the budgeted revenues. This overstatement occurred because the town did not properly account for property and sales tax revenue.”

The more recent audit, though less comprehensive,  had no complaints about the town’s bill-paying routine. It found that the town board audits and signs each bill and  certifies as correct an abstract of bills prepared by the town clerk.  Once the supervisor signs  payment checks, the audit found, the deputy town clerk records paid claims on a spreadsheet, mails the check, and “files the paid abstract with the claims.”  In the final step, the town clerk  “records the paid abstract information in the board minutes.”

The audit also traced bills totaling $135,704 in the other direction, by examining 20 canceled checks to make sure “they were approved by the board before payment, contained adequate supporting documentation and were for proper town purposes.”

The audit “found only minor issues which we discussed with town officials.”

In a letter to the comptroller’s chief examiner after receiving the draft report from the auditor, Town Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury wrote,”Minor issues the auditor found  and discussed with myself and the staff were very helpful...and we will be using them.”

Updated on Nov. 1, 2016: Background on the chronology of Rensselaerville supervisors in relationship to the 2013 audit was added.

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