Highway employees in the town of Charleston were paid for a total of about three work weeks over six months that were not actually worked, according to an audit released this week by the state Comptroller’s Office.
Auditors going over six sample months in 2012 and 2013 recently found a number of errors in the town’s Highway Department payroll system. The audit report claims the errors were made through a combination of poor time-card completion by highway employees and a lack of oversight by supervisors.
During the time examined in the audit, the highway superintendent was in charge of taking time cards filled out by his five employees, tallying up their hours and calculating compensatory time, overtime and vacation time. He then sent the information to the county, where checks were printed and sent back.
According to the report, since neither the town supervisor nor the bookkeeper actually checked to make sure the highway superintendent got his math right, “highway employees received a combined total of 134.25 hours of leave accrual benefits ... they were not entitled to.”
The report lists a number of mistakes. At one point, five employees took a total of 86.5 hours off from work, but that time was never recorded or subtracted from their leave time — essentially giving them a free vacation.
On the other side, four employees earned 37.5 hours of comp time which was never recorded, so they just lost out.
In all, town Supervisor Robert Sullivan said the audit could have turned out much worse than it did. Originally, he said the comptroller sent auditors to Charleston because the 1,400-resident town was in fiscal stress.
“I stepped in when [former town Supervisor Shayne Walters] passed away,” he said. “I had to do a budget in a week.”
In all the shuffling, the town’s fund balance fell below the state’s recommended level. Essentially, the Comptroller’s Office felt Charleston lacked the savings to operate should an emergency push them past their $1.3 annual budget.
As it turned out, the audit took so long that by the time it was finished, the town was back on strong financial footing.
“We just didn’t spend what we didn’t have,” he said, “so were able to save very quickly.”
With the larger problem solved, auditors concentrated on the relatively small payroll issue. In all, payroll mistakes cost the town only $2,516.
Mostly, Sullivan said, the mistakes were made during snowstorms and extreme weather when highway employees work overtime. On their time cards, employees get to choose how much of that overtime they want in time-and-a-half pay and how much they want in comp time.
“It can really be a nightmare doing payroll,” Sullivan said, describing how easy it is to mess up the math.
The Comptroller’s Office recommended the town put in place a comprehensive written payroll-processing policy. The report also recommends several town officials double-check payroll calculations and make sure pay and leave time tallies make it accurately into town records.
Sullivan said the town already put some checks and balances in place, with both he and the bookkeeper double-checking payroll before anyone gets paid.