Village fares well in comptroller’s audit report

Audits from the New York State Comptroller’s office typically rankle public officials by pointing ou

Audits from the New York State Comptroller’s office typically rankle public officials by pointing out risks that could lead to public money being misspent.

But in the village of Cobleskill, where shrinking local government is a focus, Mayor Mark Galasso considers the results of a recent state audit a major compliment.

Auditors targeted three primary aspects of village finances between Jan. 1, 2009 and Aug. 17, 2010: segregation of duties involving money, oversight on purchases, and written agreements for services.

The audit revealed no discrepancies nor any money missing — but auditors are cautioning village officials about the lack of additional oversight — something Galasso says the state will have to get used to if it wants municipalities to slim down.

The audit accuses the village of failing to adequately segregate duties in the Clerk/Treasurer’s office by giving all the staff in the office access to the tools needed to receive and pay out taxpayer money.

“All individuals who work within the Clerk-Treasurer’s office have user access that allowed them to perform all functions within the financial software and perform incompatible duties within the cash receipts and disbursements and payroll processes,” the audit states.

Though there were no “material discrepancies” found during a probe of cash receipts, payouts and payroll, auditors say “there is a risk that cash could be received and not deposited or improper disbursements could be made and not detected.”

Galasso points out that village Clerk/Treasurer Sheila Hay-Gillespie, the only full-time staff member in the office, has the assistance of two part-timers who share their time with other offices.

During the time auditors were probing the village’s books, the village just finished a changeover of its fiscal year to January instead of June as it had been done since the 1800s.

That change was made so the village budget could correspond with the town budget — the town and village of Cobleskill have combined their Public Works departments.

At the time of the audit, the Clerk/Treasurer’s office was reduced by one full-time position during the audit period while, due to the change in its fiscal year, the limited staff had to put together two Annual Update Documents as required by state law.

The village was also undergoing a change in leadership, with former Mayor Mark Nadeau resigning amid a scandal over the town Highway Superintendent’s accusations of racist statements.

“The fact that the audit split the time span in which we changed made things even more complicated than it otherwise would have been,” Galasso said.

The audit did point out that the village could have saved roughly $5,200 by purchasing propane and diesel fuel from the state contract process, something the village admits.

But during the time the audit focused on, the village spent more than $10 million, Galasso said.

“The fact that we came away with no discrepancies, I think its staggering. You can’t run that office any more efficiently than [Hay-Gillespie] runs that office and to have zero noted problems, I think it’s stunning,” Galasso said.

There’s a lot of discussion at the state level regarding the need to shrink government, he said, and the trade-off of successful efforts to do so is the need to trust the people charged with major responsibilities.

Segregating duties in the village Clerk/Treasurer’s office would require hiring another person.

“You can’t hire anyone for less than $50,000 a year. Are you really going to spend $50,000 a year to save $500? Sometimes you have to be able to step over the penny to save the dollar,” Galasso said.

“Although there is a risk by running a very lean office, the rewards so outweigh the risk it’s not even worth talking about,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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