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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 15, 2010

After years of clamor, Rensselaerville to be audited by county comptroller

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners and his office will perform an audit of the town’s finances, at no cost to the taxpayers. He will coordinate with the New York State Comptroller’s office for the audit, he said.

The audit comes after years of citizens questioning the handling of town assets.

“We’re going to try and help them build some transparency,” Conners told The Enterprise this week. “We’re going to start with their checking account, and we’re going to start with claims…Maybe we can work on an accounting system that’ll make information more readily available to people.”

At its April 8 regular meeting, the town board heard Conners’s offer, and voted unanimously to have him audit the town’s fiscal activity for the years 2006 through 2009. Conners’s office will examine the town’s books, and the performances of related town employees, he said this week.

“I want to make sure our books are in order,” Supervisor Marie Dermody said this week, “and that I didn’t inherit anything that is not appropriate.” Dermody took office on Jan. 1.

The town board reached out to Conners, Dermody said, after being advised to do so by Albany County Legislator Alexander “Sandy” Gordon last month.

“He has the skills,” Gordon said of Conners, “hopefully the staff, and an opportunity for some intergovernmental cooperation,” as well as a chance to save the town money, he said.

The town budgeted $25,000 this year for independent auditing and accounting — a $20,000 increase from the previous year — in anticipation of an audit, but that money can now be saved.

The desire for an audit came out of years of controversy in the town’s recent history, including a former supervisor who was arrested for stealing large sums of money from local charities, a former highway superintendent who was accused of breaking state law by loading salt and sand from the town’s supply into a private citizen’s truck, and mysterious vouchers.

Citizens and town officials have called for a forensic audit, but forensic audits are used to prepare for legal proceedings. While Rensselaerville is not currently involved in legal proceedings, they could potentially result from undesired findings in the financial audit.

“If there’s something we see that we think requires an outside investigation,” either by the state comptroller or the district attorney’s office, “we certainly would refer that to the appropriate authorities,” Conners told The Enterprise. “You don’t start as if you’re doing a criminal investigation. If it turns out that it is criminal, we’ll refer it to the proper authorities; we’ll bring in someone who’s fit to deal with criminal acts. I don’t see us as a law enforcement body,” he said of his office.

Conners said this week that he is unsure of how long the audit will take, but that the town should not expect results before the end of August.

“It’s very hard to say, because I don’t know the condition of the records, or how much I can get electronically,” said Conners. “We’re going to do the audit, and we’re going to follow the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves.”

[For more coverage on town board discussions of the need for an audit, and further information on what a forensic audit is, go to www.altamontenterprise.com, and look under archives for Nov. 19, 2009.]

Other business

In other business at its April 8 meeting, the town board:

— Scheduled a public hearing for May 11 at 7 p.m. on a three-month extension of the town’s wind-power moratorium, to ensure that the Wind Study Committee has ample time to complete its commercial-wind recommendations. If the extension is approved, the moratorium would expire either on Sept. 3, 2010, or upon completion of the regulations, whichever comes first;

— Heard from Supervisor Dermody that the $30,000 check the town received from the Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance Squad has “made the budget whole again.” The squad receives money from the insurance companies of the patients it transports;

— Heard from Dermody that she is seeking a $15,000 reimbursement on a car, purchased last year, that is used by the town to bring elderly residents to and from doctor’s appointments;

— Encouraged residents to send in their census forms;

— Discussed shortening hours for waste-oil collection at the transfer station. Collection volumes have been insufficient for use in the town’s waste-oil furnace, so the current number of hours worked by personnel to collect the oil is cost prohibitive;

— Heard that the town will be prosecuting individuals who trespassed on the site of an old landfill;

— Adopted a new investment policy; and

— Purchased additional random access memory [RAM] for computers at Town Hall.

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