Schenectady County

Audit: Private work wasted funds

A town paving project at a private gun club that benefited the club — but not town residents — cost
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A town paving project at a private gun club that benefited the club — but not town residents — cost taxpayers $48,000, according to a state audit released on Wednesday.

The project at the West Albany Rod and Gun Club done in August and September 2007 came under fire when it was reported that town employees spent hundreds of hours of town time using town equipment at the private club.

The former town attorney and a former Town Board member, who were involved with the contract with the club, were also members of the club, but neither one disclosed their involvement with the project that involved disposal of dirt (or spoils), according to the audit.

“Town officials did not handle the disposal of these spoils as economically as possible or conduct the disposal in a transparent manner to provide accountability to taxpayers,” the audit found.

It also criticized the town for a lack of oversight by the Town Board and the Department of Public Works commissioner.

According to the audit, the town may have incurred $38,000 in additional costs because materials were used at the private club instead of being used on town projects.

Former Republican town Supervisor Mary Brizzell conducted an in-house audit after reports were publicized about the project, and she reported that no wrongdoing had occurred and said the town saved about $125,000 by disposing of the dirt or spoils at the club. She also said that projects like this one should be approved by the Town Board.

But the subsequent state audit had far different findings.

It found that the contract for the work was not authorized by the Town Board or public works commissioner and the contract itself did not release the town from liability.

The 30-page audit also said the town is not allowed to work on private property unless the work serves a “town purpose” and it recommended that the town develop a disposal program for spoils and compare costs.

“Any contracts for the disposal of spoils should be authorized by the appropriate town officials before the work takes place and should protect the town’s interests,” the audit said.

The additional work the town performed at the club, which included grading, parking lot enlargement and resurfacing, valued at about $20,000, benefited the club, not the town, the audit found. A silt fence for erosion control was installed, and the parking area was enlarged to three times its original size.

The contract’s terms did not release the town from liability related to work done under the contract.

The audit said the improvement work the town provided to the club at no charge was extensive. “However, because the town not only dumped the spoils at the club but also completed major capital improvements at the club, club members, rather than town residents, were the primary beneficiaries.”

In a written statement, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said town government should be working for the people, not the private clubs they belong to.

“At the very least, they should disclose what they were up to. This didn’t happen in Colonie,” he said.

Colonie could have received $30,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds if town officials had disposed of the dirt in the town’s landfill.

Current Democratic Supervisor Paula Mahan, who latched onto the controversial project during her campaign to unseat Brizzell, said that since she took office residents have demanded accountability about the project and the audit provides answers.

“As public officials we are entrusted with a great responsibility to work on behalf of the people who elected us, not for our own special interest,”she said. “When this incident initially came to light, residents felt their concerns were not taken seriously,” Mahan added. “I want to assure each resident of this town I am taking this seriously and appropriate actions will be taken.”

Albany County District Attorney David Soares is conducting an investigation into the project to determine if any criminal charges should be filed.

Other findings of the audit were that by using town personnel and equipment to dump the soil at the club, it cost taxpayers $42,000 more than it may have cost to hire a private contractor to haul it away, which auditors estimated would have cost $6,000; $29,500 more than it would have cost to dump it at a large town-owned site used by the town’s Water Division; and $21,000 more than it would have cost to dump it at the town’s landfill.

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