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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2012

Village pleased with comptroller’s audit, implements changes

ALTAMONT — The state comptroller audited Altamont last year and found that too few people were responsible for the village’s finances.

The New York State Office of the State Comptroller made five recommendations that would keep Altamont’s village board apprised of fiscal operations in the village. Not adopting new policies could diminish “the board’s ability to monitor financial operations,” the audit said, “and could result in the board’s failure to detect fraud, waste, and abuse.”

In a letter returned to the comptroller’s office Jan. 31, 2012, the village board noted that “no major deficiencies with the village operation of its financial condition, accounting system, cash management... payroll... real property taxes [or] justice court” were found in the audit.

“It was accurate,” Mayor James Gaughan said this week of the audit that the comptroller released on Feb. 24.

“It was a very good thing. It was minimalistic — not a terrible thing. It identified some things we could do. We’ve already put things in place and we're ready to go. I'm very pleased with the outcome. It’s the staff who has really done a great job.”

Auditors from the state comptroller’s office spent almost six weeks with the village staff last summer and fall, said Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck. The audit covered the period from June 1, 2010 to Aug. 31, 2011.

“They were very helpful when they were here, ” Hasbrouck said. “I was very pleased with it. It went well. It’s always good to have an audit. It gets you uniform with all the other villages and towns...and makes it easier for them to come in and review.”

Five recommendations

The comptroller’s office made five recommendations for the board’s oversight of village finances — adopting written policies on duties, reviewing and segregating the treasurer’s duties, creating unique user accounts for the computer, auditing the treasurer’s records annually, and monitoring result of operations against budget estimates.

The audit suggested that the board adopt written policies to establish responsibilities for officials and staff with financial duties. Altamont adopted an investment policy last October, and said in its written response that officials would use the comptroller’s management guide to complete a review process by May 2013.

“We wanted to give ourselves enough time to get everything in place,” Hasbrouck said. The small staff is working on the village budget, water and sewer rate collections, and dealing with vacation schedules, she said.

“By the end of the year, we’ll have it all in place,” she said.

The audit noted the broad scope of responsibilities held by Hasbrouck and said that the board should create procedures to compensate for her singularly held duties.

“Altamont is very small and the separation of duties is very difficult to achieve,” the village wrote in its response. The board said that Village Clerk Patty Blackwood would verify the bank reconciliation and abstracts monthly. The board will also now receive monthly reports, which include receipts, expenditures, and balance sheets, it said. The board said that the new procedures would be ready by June 2012.

The audit found that three members of the village staff had access to the computerized financial system, all using the same user account and password.

“All users of common finance software have individual passwords as of January 17, 2012,” the village wrote.

Some of the recommendations were procedural, and related to technology changes, Hasbrouck said, referring to cell phones and electronic transfers of funds.

“We have one credit card for the village,” she said, noting that the single card has been in use for years. “No one thought of it,” she said of a credit-use policy.

“I see no reason why we can’t enact what they’re talking about,” she said. Usage policies are “good to hand down” to new employees, she said.

The board agreed with the audit that it would conduct an annual audit of the treasurer’s records and reports.

“Catherine says it’s easy — the same thing the village does with the court,” Gaughan said. According to the village’s response letter, the board will create a checklist based on guidelines from the comptroller’s office. The village will implement the checklist for the fiscal year 2012-13.

The audit found that the village did not monitor revenues and expenditures compared to expected budgeted estimates. Periodic reviews could ensure corrective action is taken before “financial condition is negatively affected,” the audit said.

The new policies will create a better connection between the trustees of the village board and the staff, Gaughan said.

The audit has not been discussed publicly, he said, but many of the changes will be on the board’s April agenda to meet a 90-day deadline for submitting plans of corrective action.

Asked if it were difficult to meet the audit’s recommendations, Gaughan said, “It was easy to do. There’s always room for improvement. This falls way on the line of a light correction. The staff have really done very well. It’s not a big deal. It's a good thing.”

Gaughan said that the village is developing a “robust” end-of-year overview within the guidelines of the audit.

He said that he reads monthly newsletters from the state comptroller, and audit reports for other municipalities.

“They sound pretty horrific, actually,” Gaughan said. “Some of the villages have...not-so-efficient operating systems in place. What we do, even though we’re a small staff, I think is exemplary. I'm proud of our staff.”

By Jo E. Prout

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