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Accounting firm hired over clerk opposition

08/16/2007

By Erin Post

The Moretown Select Board hired an accounting firm to help get town books up to date despite objections from the town clerk.

After a lengthy discussion regarding the results of a recent audit, on Monday, August 13, board members unanimously approved a motion from select board member Rae Washburn to retain Sullivan Powers and Company on a temporary basis. The plan is to have a Sullivan Powers employee focus on accounting records for the current year.

Several select board members said it's necessary to move quickly to have records ready for the audit of 2007's books. The budgeting process leading up to Town Meeting also requires the work to be done, select board members said. Town clerk Susan Goodyear estimated that monthly records have been reconciled through about April. She said work was ongoing and argued that the task could be completed more quickly if assistants were authorized to work additional hours.

The audit recommends that "bank and general ledger reconciliations be performed monthly."

HIRE LONG-TERM HELP, CLERK SAYS

Despite the money it would cost to hire Sullivan Powers and Company now, it stands to save the town dollars on the year-end audit, suggested select board chair Paula Mastroberardino.

The goal would be to "get month-end stuff done now, so that come January, a lot of the work would be done," she said.

Officials have estimated the cost of hiring the accounting firm to be about $5,000, although Mastroberardino characterized that figure as on the high end of the scale in an e-mail following Monday's meeting. She did not have a figure for the final cost of the 2006 audit.

On Monday, several Moretown residents voiced support for bringing in temporary help. Ron Ward said he wants to be able to walk into the office and get current financial information, as per the recommendation of the Vermont State Auditor at a town meeting several months ago.

"We haven't got that as far as I know," he said, adding that bringing in help seems to be the most efficient way to get there.

But town clerk Susan Goodyear argued that personnel already in the office are capable of the job and could do it for fewer dollars.

"If the assistants could get additional hours they could do that work," she said. "I would like to see my tax money better used."

She questioned why the select board did not support increasing the hours for an assistant town clerk as requested late last year and suggested that permanent help -- as opposed to a one-time boost -- is necessary.

Tasks for the town clerk's office are only getting more complicated and time-consuming, Goodyear said, pointing to the recent statewide shift in how property tax rebates are administered as one example.

Select board member John Hoogenboom said he needed more assurance that current employees would be willing and able to work additional hours on a temporary basis.

One select board member suggested the town needs to have Sullivan and Powers come in as a first step in a lengthier process.

"What we're offering is additional temporary help to help you get caught up," said Stephanie Venema to Goodyear, who is currently working part time due to medical reasons.

Once the work is done, the town can look at ways to improve efficiency within the office and, if necessary, hire additional personnel or increase hours, Venema said.

RECOMMENDATIONS CONSIDERED

The Sullivan Powers and Company audit, released to the public in July, listed about 20 recommendations. Some require changes in the town clerk's office; others need select board action.

Goodyear said her office has already started implementing some procedures. An assistant without check-signing authority now handles bank reconciliations most of the time, Goodyear said. The audit recommended separating check-signing and reconciliation duties as a standard accounting procedure.

A manual detailing office policies and procedures is in the works, Goodyear said, although she repeatedly stressed that the staff is stretched thin and that work on the recommendations must be balanced with customers walking in the door.

She said the office has started to pay mileage reimbursements through the payroll system, as recommended, and has also started to keep a general journal.

According to the audit recommendations, a general journal keeps track of adjustments made to accounting records throughout the year.

When pressed by select board members, Goodyear declined to list top priorities from the recommendations, stating that they are all important and that the staff is working whenever they can on tackling the items.

Board members also discussed contacting the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) for assistance on several recommendations, including a procurement policy, a personnel policy and a fraud risk assessment program.

Contact Erin Post at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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