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Audit says Stillwater overtaxed some

Village residents spared some townside costs

Thursday, December 20, 2012
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— The state Comptroller’s Office warned the town of Stillwater in an audit released Wednesday that it incorrectly budgeted some expenses and needs to tighten its information technology policies and the town clerk’s procedures.

The audit found the town puts an unfair burden on residents who live outside the village, charging them for certain town expenses that should be shared among all residents, including those in the village.

The town pays for town buildings, the town historian and community center programs out of the “part-town” general fund budget, rather than the “townwide” budget, even though all residents of the town use those services, the audit stated.

From January 2010 through the end of 2012, the part-town fund paid for $840,700 in such expenses that should have been shared among all town residents, the audit stated. That included $277,000 in 2010, or 36 percent of the part-town general fund budget; $261,700 in 2011, or 32 percent of that budget; and $302,000 in 2012, or 36 percent of that budget.

Town Supervisor Ed Kinowski disputed that figure, saying he believes it is less.

“No way do I feel we owe them $840,000,” he said.

He explained the town budgeted the funds that way because payments in lieu of taxes from GlobalFoundries could benefit only the part-town fund, not the townwide fund, so officials shifted some expenses to the part-town fund so village residents could also benefit from the computer chip plant’s payments.

The audit covered the town’s books from Jan. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, but auditors also looked at the town’s 2012 budget.

Auditors said the town clerk and deputy clerk need to have separate user names and passwords for their computer systems, instead of using the same one, as they do now. Also, the clerk’s office has deposited payments later than the three business days required by law and doesn’t record the method of payment when people pay for fees or permits. And bank accounts hadn’t been reconciled since 2008, missing a chance to catch mistakes, the audit said.

The Town Board also should conduct periodic audits of the town clerk’s books, the state audit recommended. Kinowski said the board has complete confidence in the town clerk and her deputy.

“Their team approach and duty to fulfilling their daily administrative tasks are above reproach,” he wrote in a letter to the state attached to the audit report.

On the information technology side, the Comptroller’s Office said the town doesn’t have a policy for acceptable Internet use by employees.

“We observed that one user’s Internet browsing history included visits to social networking, online gaming and online auction sites,” the audit stated.

The town also lacked a disaster recovery plan for its computerized information, and backup tapes were stored in the building rather than off-site, so if there was a fire or flood, the backups would be destroyed along with the computers, the audit said.

Some of those flaws have since been corrected, Kinowski said, including adding off-site data storage.

The town will come up with a corrective action plan in the next few months to tell the state what it has done to fix the problems and also to offer more information disputing points that officials believe are wrong in the audit, Kinowski said.

He said he appreciated the audit overall and said it pointed out some things the town can do better.

“I don’t think they found anything significant in our town to say we’re misusing or abusing our tax money,” he said.

 
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