By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Concerns included in a recent state audit of the Village of Monticello garnered a pointed and lengthy reply from Village Manager John LiGreci.
Auditors from the NYS Comptroller’s Office researched various aspects of the village’s finances between August 2009 and October 2010, leading to an audit report with a dozen recommendations the village can choose whether to implement.
Among other things, they found that village employees purchased about $10,000 in goods and services without getting the quotes required by the village’s procurement policy, made nearly $120,000 in purchases before submitting purchase orders, and missed opportunities to partner with the county to save on copy paper and fuel.
Auditors did not, however, find any misappropriations of funds or discrepancies in records.
Most of the resulting recommendations were agreeable to the village, with some already implemented since the audit:
• Improving meeting minutes to indicate which abstracts are approved for payment
• Having the board work with the village manager and department heads to develop, adopt and implement financial policies and procedures that are reviewed annually
• Ensuring the procurement policy is operating as intended
• Requiring the village manager to segregate customer billings and cash receipt duties, and duties relating to water/sewer charges, departmental fees, real property taxes and revenues from outside sources or if that’s impractical, creating supervisory reviews or other controls
• Complying with the village’s own procurement policy by obtaining at least three written quotes for purchases between $1,001 and $10,000
• Creating written contracts for every vendor who provides professional services
• Having the entire board (rather than just two trustees) audit all claims prior to payment
• Requiring all employees to submit purchase orders prior to placing orders
On the other hand, the village disagreed heavily with two recommendations. Auditors said:
• The board should require formal requests for proposals from multiple vendors who might provide professional services
• The board should participate in county bids for goods and services and obtain computer support from the county, along with investigating opportunities for sharing services with neighboring municipalities
In a response drafted by both LiGreci and Village Attorney Dennis Lynch, the village argues that the auditors were inflexible and, at times, inaccurate in their understanding of state law.
In particular, the response points out that competitive quotes for professional services are not required, since the best price doesn’t guarantee the best service (i.e., from law firms, insurers, etc.).
Auditors agreed with that argument but replied that there was no evidence village officials had even evaluated those vying to provide professional services.
LiGreci’s response also criticized the auditors for suggesting the village partner with the county on computer support services, when the county had told the auditors it would be interested in “looking into” providing such services but wasn’t necessarily ready to do so amidst understaffing issues.
LiGreci additionally pointed out that the village already jointly bids with the Town of Thompson on purchases, but the auditors replied that joining with the county on copy paper and fuel bids still would have reduced costs.
LiGreci also argued that many financial duties are already segregated, though he conceded that having one person as a sole trustee of funds can lead to misconduct.
A corrective action plan is required to be sent to the Comptroller’s Office by the village. LiGreci said recently that he’s awaiting a more detailed response from the auditors to his letter before completing that plan.
“A lot of it is already being corrected,” assessed Mayor Gordon Jenkins, noting no monies were missing nor any illegalities alleged. “All of the issues are being addressed.”
Meanwhile, Trustee Carmen Rue sent letters of her own to the auditors, saying she’s been denied information and treated disrespectfully by village officials past and present, including LiGreci and his predecessor, John Barbarite. She also pointed out that she was not in charge of reviewing the village’s bills at the time of the audit, and that the village board just passed a budget with no tax increase or layoffs.
She urged inclusion of this information in the audit, plus another investigation by the Comptroller’s Office. Neither has happened to date.
“I am not convinced that adequate changes have been made to resolve all the problems that are made public in this audit,” Rue told the Democrat.
“... When the manager prevents trustees from having full access to financial and other official information, our only recourse is to ask for state review, which is what I did in this case,” she continued. “I am pleased that the Comptroller responded by conducting an in-depth review. Unfortunately, it may be necessary to ask for a follow-up visit, if the practices of the current village manager do not change.”
LiGreci denied ever withholding information from Rue that he’s made available to the rest of the village board.
“What Carmen Rue wants to do is come in and circumvent the daily operation of the village,” LiGreci angrily replied. “Carmen Rue is not the village manager, who is the CEO of the daily operations. She needs to allow me and all the department heads to do their jobs.”
A full copy of the audit is available on the NYS Comptroller’s homepage, www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/villages/2012/monticello.htm.