Saratoga County

State audit faults Corinth for sand pit sales

So much for running a town like a business.

PHOTOGRAPHER:

So much for running a town like a business.

The town of Corinth was able to make more than $21,000 in 2006 by selling the rocky “overburden” soil at the town’s sand pit on Miner Road to private contractors.

But, the state Comptroller’s Office did not approve of this practice.

The overburden is the 5 feet to 10 feet of soil on top of the good, usable highway sand underneath it.

“It’s only good for fill,” said town Supervisor Richard Lucia. “It was no good for us.”

The town was selling the soil at bargain prices — $1.50 for a pickup truck load, for example — to get the piles out of the way of town trucks using the sand pit.

“It was actually in the way,” Lucia said.

“Irrespective of this operation’s overall success or failure from a financial standpoint, we consider the town’s operation of the sand pit as if it were a commercial venture to be improper,” stated a comptroller’s audit of the town covering 2006.

The audit was released last month.

The town purchased its own sand pit on Miner Road more than 10 years ago when Saratoga County could no longer provide the town with sand.

The sand, sometimes mixed with salt, is used to spread on icy roads in the winter months, among other highway uses.

Since 2002, the town had been selling the overburden material. The town advertised in the local newspaper with a schedule of costs approved by the Town Board and the hours the sand pit would be open, according to the state.

Rates were set at $1.50 per load for a pickup truck; $10 for a load on a single-axle truck; $20 per load for a tandem-axle truck; and $25 per load for a tri-axle truck.

“By 2006, the town was essentially engaged in running a commercial operation selling sand,” the comptroller’s audit said.

The town’s accounting of its sand sales were thorough with no money missing, the state said.

“We determined that the town’s internal controls over sand pit receipts were appropriately designed and operating effectively to adequately account for and safeguard the moneys collected,” the state comptroller’s report stated.

Lucia said the town has stopped selling the sand the way it did in the past.

“Per your recommendation, the town of Corinth has ceased selling sand from its town sand pit,” Lucia wrote the state Comptroller’s Office on Dec. 18, 2007. “In this regard, all future sand removed from the pit will be for town use only.”

Lucia said during a telephone conversation this week that the state said that if the town was going to sell the surplus, it couldn’t sell it for less than the going rate.

He said the town highway department develops huge piles of the overburden material at the sand pit.

The state will apparently approve the town allowing the piles to grow and then seeking bids on the unwanted fill material, he said.

The comptroller’s report said that when a town acquires land for highway purposes that contains sand or gravel unsuited for highway use, it may sell the unneeded material.

“Town officials have a fiduciary duty to secure the best price obtainable or the most beneficial terms when disposing of such property,” the audit report states.

“However, since towns generally are not authorized to engage in ongoing commercial ventures, the town should dispose of the excess material as expeditiously as possible, rather than purposely engaging in the continuing practice of piecemeal, individual transactions, analogous to what a private commercial venture would do,” the report says.

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