State finds no problems in Berne’s procurement

BERNE — The town’s process of spending money got an approving look from the state comptroller’s office this month.

“We determined that internal controls over the Town’s procurement process were properly designed and operating effectively,” the report, released on July 18, says. “We commend Town officials on designing and implementing an appropriate system of controls over the procurement process.”

In its regular audits of local municipalities, the comptroller’s office examined the town’s financial condition and internal controls, finding them adequate. The audit was then focused on the town’s purchases and procurement policy used from Jan. 1, 2013 through Feb. 28, 2014.

Looking at 31 purchases, the comptroller’s office found nine purchases totaling $676,298 were each enough to require competitive bidding. Three of them were allowed exemptions from bidding — state contract, a professional service, and an emergency purchase — and the rest met bidding requirements, the report says.

The other 22 purchases, totaling $51,854, the audit showed, had followed the town’s procurement policy.

State law requires local governments to solicit bids for purchases of $20,000 or more and public-works contracts of $35,000 or more and award them to the lowest responsible bidder. Berne’s policy is more strict, requiring advertising for bids on purchases that amount to $10,000 or more and public-works contracts that are $20,000 or more.

The sample of purchases for used to assess procurement in the audit didn’t include purchases under $1,000, utility payments, and payroll.

For purchases from the general fund over $350, Berne’s policy requires approval by the town board; under that amount, Supervisor Kevin Crosier said department officials still have to go through the senior account clerk, Andrea Borst, who checks state and county contracts, before getting a purchase order to buy something.

“It encumbers the money, so you know what you’re spending before you spend it,” Crosier said. “Years ago, they were spending the money and then you’d get the bill.”

The town doesn’t require written proposals or quotes in special situations: acquiring professional services, except when the town board has directed the use of formal requests for proposals; emergencies; sole-source situations; goods purchased from agencies for the blind or severely handicapped; goods purchased from correctional facilities; goods purchased from another government agency; goods purchased at auction; goods purchased for less than $250; or public works contracts for less than $500.

In the comptroller’s last audit of Berne’s records, for the period of 2008 to 2009, while Crosier was in office, it found “that 11 claims totaling $23,133 lacked evidence of department head approval, 10 claims totaling $90,565 lacked evidence of receipt, and one claim totaling $16,921 included an overpayment of $1,741.” It said that controls over the supervisor’s records needed improvement and described its large fund balances as signs of excessive tax raises.

At the time, the report, released in 2010, said the unreserved fund balances were 103 percent of appropriations in the general fund and 26 percent of the appropriations for the highway fund. The 2014 town budget has fund balances of 20 percent of general fund appropriations and 23 percent of highway appropriations.

“We got the last audit, we saw what needed to be fixed, and we set off to do that, and part of that was to hire a full-time senior account clerk, absolutely,” said Crosier, who left the supervisor’s office from 2010 to early 2012, adding that the comptroller’s report affirms the board’s decision.

Asked what areas the town can improve on, Crosier said town officials look to save on retirement, health, and workers’ compensation insurance. Starting in August, he said, the town will have a new workers’ compensation carrier, Public Employer Risk Management Association, Inc., reducing an expected increase of about $20,000 to $7,000.

With a new form that employees sign every day, Crosier said workers will be reclassified each day to take advantage of lower rates.

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