Editorial: What to do with a critical audit?
What do the New York Power Authority, Albany State University, Sarataga Springs Housing Authority and town of Halfmoon have in common? They’ve all been audited by the state comptroller’s office in the past year. As much as the audits themselves are interesting, it’s also interesting, and sometimes entertaining, to read the official response, which the comptroller usually includes at the end.
Nobody likes to be audited, of course, but the vast majority of municipalities and agencies accept these reports and give a positive or neutral response. Like: “We appreciate your pointing out these shortcomings, which are making us less efficient or wasting taxpayer money, and will take steps to fix them right away.” Or, at least, “We acknowledge the criticism and accept your recommendations.”
But not all. Others get defensive, some combative, some beyond that.
For instance, the Power Authority argued (in a press release after the audit) that it’s not wasteful for it to have its own airplane, and pilots, because its facilities are spread out, some in remote locations, and there may be emergencies. As for the criticism that 35 percent its employees make in excess of $100,000 — far more than the percentage for other New York state public authorities or the regular state work force — well, the authority said, that’s life in the utility industry. Maybe, but those utilities weren’t created by the state to provide low-cost power to the residents and businesses of the state.
But that was a mild reaction compared to the others. After the comptroller found that the University at Albany had spent more than $1 million on questionable sabbaticals and other paid leaves, the school had excuses for almost everything — and not very convincing ones. Although the sabbaticals and other paid leaves weren’t used the way they were intended, documentation wasn’t provided and the university got nothing in return, a spokesman argued that they complied with the school’s policies, which the comptroller simply had a different view of.
But this was a mild reaction compared to the one written by Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board Chairman Eric Weller, who angrily dismissed every criticism — from the handling of a bedbug infestation to the executive director’s excessive salary to questionable travel expenses. We won’t seek reimbursement for them, as the comptroller recommended, he said. And we’re an independent agency, not answerable to the city or state..
But this was a mild reaction compared to the official one from Halfmoon, which defended the town’s overestimate of sales tax revenues for the years 2009-11 (blaming it on the recession) and overuse of surplus funds (to the point where the highway fund was put in deficit) to make up for the miscalculation. And, later, the unofficial reaction from Republican Supervisor Mindy Wormuth, who called the report “utterly ridiculous,” and said “we are truly disgusted by this blatant attempt at political hackery.”
Take that, Mr. DiNapoli, you Democrat.
These audits are only advisory in nature, so even if the response is go to blazes, there’s really nothing the comptroller can do. It’s up to the local officials or agency leaders to act on them or not, and if they don’t, then it’s ultimately up to taxpayers and voters what to do about it.
In any case, all the comptroller’s audits are available on his website (http://www.osc.state.ny.us). Read ’em and weep, laugh, learn.
Editor's note: This version is different from the one that appeared in print. The print version may have given the impression that the Power Authority's response was contained in the audit report itself.