Audit finds issues in Schuyler

Gwen Chamberlain
The audit report is available at the Comptroller's website, http://www.osc.state.ny.us/

As Yates and Schuyler County officials look for opportunities to save tax dollars by sharing services in some areas, the treasurer’s office may be one place where economies of scale might help both counties.

A recently released report from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office has revealed weaknesses in systems used within the Schuyler County Treasurer’s office during two treasurer’s terms.

For the past two months, Yates County Treasurer Winona Flynn has reported to legislators she has been meeting with staff of the Schuyler County office to review policies and procedures.

The audit report states that neither Margaret Starbuck, who held the Schuyler County Treasurer’s office from Jan. 1, 2004 to Dec. 31, 2011, and who is now seeking election to the post again, nor Gary Whyman, who served from Jan. 1, 2012 through Aug. 1, 2014 when he abruptly stepped down, appropriately performed their duties.

“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,” says the report’s executive summary.

The report says that because of the treasurer’s failure to carry out some accounting procedures, Schuyler County officials did not know the true cash or financial position of the county.

“Because of lack of oversight, the treasurers could not verify that the records maintained in their office were accurate,” the report continues.

Other findings during the audit of records and documents from Jan. 1, 2011 to Sept. 11, 2013 included:

• Treasurers did not reconcile cash with accounting records in a timely manner, and subsidiary accounts were not reconciled to control accounts, resulting in inaccurate financial reports not prepared in a timely manner.

• Errors resulted in the misstatement of all financial reports prepared by the treasurer’s office through the fiscal year.

• The county lost revenue because the treasurers did not review tax collection reconciliations with the county’s eight towns, resulting in a failure to collect over $11,000 in service charges.

• 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.

The report is available here.

Real property tax receipts represented 26.5 percent of the county’s estimated revenue ($12 million of $45.2 million) for 2013. Schuyler County taxpayers are permitted to pay their taxes through an installment plan. According to the county’s response to the audit, Starbuck “circumvent(ed) the installment requirements in the case of her own personal agreement. Of particular concern is the fact that of the 27 instances cited, the previous treasurer was the only person that did not pay any of the required down payment.”

The letter, signed by Schuyler County Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan and County Administrator Timothy O’Hearn, said the legislature “is deeply disturbed” by that development.

The County Treasurer position is an elected post. The treasurer is the recipient and custodian of all the county’s money and is responsible for maintaining an accurate accounting of all receipts and disbursements.

Last year, legislators asked county voters to decide if the post should continue as an elected position or be an appointed post. Voters wanted to keep it as an elected post.

The Yates-Schuyler shared services steering committee meets again on Nov. 6 with the consultants conducting the study of both counties. Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy says consultants from CGR will go over the baseline report at that time.