Audit: Neither treasurer properly performed
SCHUYLER COUNTY--The New York State Comptroller's Office said former Schuyler County treasurers Margaret Starbuck and Gary Whyman did not adequately perform their duties before fall of 2013. The result of a state audit, which analyzed the department between Jan. 1, 2011 and Sept. 11, 2013, were similar to an independent audit by Ithaca accounting firm Ciaschi, Dietershagen, Little, Mickelson & Co. last August, which stated Schuyler County's financial managers lacked the "knowledge and ability" to prepare municipal financial statements that balance. The recently released state audit claims the treasurers "did not reconcile cash with the accounting records in a timely manner and subsidiary accounts were not reconciled to control accounts, resulting in inaccurate financial reports that were not prepared in a timely manner."
"Neither treasurer appropriately performed the duties of their office," according to the audit. "Neither treasurer had established written procedures for the office's financial processes. In addition to the lack of procedures, neither treasurer had adequately segregated duties for receipts and disbursements or developed compensating controls to adequately safeguard county assets. For example, neither treasurer provided any oversight procedures for collecting general receipts and tax moneys or disbursing payroll and accounts payable checks. Because of the lack of oversight, the treasurers could not verify that the records maintained in their office were accurate."
According to the state audit, the treasurers also did not review the deputy's tax collection reconciliations with the county's eight town tax collectors, claiming they found one reconciliation for the town of Reading for 2011 was short $1,786 and was not charged back to the town in the subsequent year, which resulted in a loss of revenue for the county. The audit also claims it found the deputy's reconciliations failed to identify and collect $11,3162 in service charges paid by taxpayers from two towns that chose the installment tax payment option.
"Furthermore, county officials did not know the number of delinquent tax accounts or the total amount of taxes due to the county at any time during the year," according to the audit findings. "Officials did not have a list of taxpayers with tax installment agreements and a list of taxpayers in default on their tax installment agreement. As a result, collections were limited and haphazard. Although the county's CPA conveyed the material weaknesses resulting from the lack of oversight in the annual management letter, the treasurers did not address the CPA's recommendations. Instead, the treasurers relied on the annual public audit to determine the correct amounts that should be reported."
County Chairman Dennis Fagan wrote a response to the audit's findings, indicating Whyman had taken actions prior to his August resignation to remedy the situation.
"Most of the recommended actions have either already been accomplished or substantially completed by Treasurer Whyman and other county staff prior to his resignation in August of this year. It should also be noted that the majority of your recommendations mirror those of the county's independent auditor, dating back over the past several years."
The REVIEW&EXPRESS asked Fagan and County Administrator Tim O'Hearn why there are still problems in the treasurer's office despite similar findings in previous audits and what responsibility they take for the continuing issues in the treasurer's office. The key points of their responses are as follows:
"The state comptroller's audit report indicated that the past two treasurers (Whyman and Starbuck) did not perform the duties of their office," Fagan said. "The comptroller however indicated that the Treasurer Whyman was receptive to implementing recommendations whereas Treasurer Starbuck was not. Treasurer Whyman's implementation was slow in coming and hence problems were still not fully resolved. As to my personal responsibility for the continuing problems in the treasurer's office, the legislature's hands are somewhat tied since the treasurer is an elected official whom we cannot control. Our efforts to change the treasurer from an elected to an appointed position was firmly rebuked by the voters. My concern in seeing who runs the treasurer's office is not political but rather finding a candidate that posses the competence to perform the duties of the office."
O'Hearn echoed Fagan's assessment of Whyman being more receptive than Starbuck to "initiatives designed to improve the efficacy of the office," while adding the treasurers bear the responsibility for the shortcomings.
"The comptroller's report objectively summed up our situation in stating that of the two treasurer's covered under the audit (Starbuck and Whyman) neither was able to perform the duties of the office," O'Hearn said. "[...] As this is an elected position and statutorily independent from both my and legislative directive, it would be disingenuous to suggest that responsibility for the shortcomings of this office should be deflected to anyone other than the treasurer. I would be the first to take responsibility if this was a situation that I had control over."
Brian Butry, spokesperson for the comptroller's office, said while they are able to make recommendations, the comptroller is not in a position to go into a county and make changes.
"[The audit] raises concerns for the oversight of the office," Butry said. "At the end of the day, it is up to the county government to address what we pointed out in the audit, and it is up to taxpayers and residents to hold them accountable."