Clarksburg Officials Continue to Dig Into Finance Errors

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Highway Foreman Kyle Hurlbut confers with town officials about the need for a new truck and the leaking roof in the town garage.

CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials are expected to meet with its finance personnel on Friday evening at 6 in another effort to clarify a $113,000 variance in the town accounts.

A journal entry wiping out the $113,000 has to be done before the town can submit its Schedule A for free cash, which should have been done in October. Finance Committee members have been reluctant to ignore the variance but need free cash from fiscal 2013 settled before determining a budget for fiscal 2015.

"There is a a lot of money in overlay that's ready to be released to us, but it can't be until we solve this," said Finance Committee member Lori-Anne Aubin at Tuesday's joint meeting between the Selectmen and Finance Committee.

Aubin said she has been in contact with the town's auditor, Thomas Scanlon, and had spent time with Treasurer/Tax Collector Melissa McGovern review figures. What caught her eye was a number of entries for the purchase of a highway truck in 2012, which happened to be about the same number as the variance: $113,000.

Town Accountant Christa Marsh, who attended Tuesday's meeting, confirmed there had been errors in how to account for the truck's purchase, resulting in changes in the record.

"I can't help but feel there's an entry there that's wrong," Aubin said. "It may not be the problem but it's really glaring."

Committee member Rebecca Buck, however, thought the real issue was the $80,000 variance that appeared on July 1, 2013, when the books should have been zeroed. The $80,000, plus around $30,000 from fiscal 2012, appear to make up the variance, but she and the others hoped the truck could be the problem.

That was dashed when Marsh printed out a record of fund balances — that didn't match the record printed the day before by McGovern.

"I'm looking at we've got a $113,000 that's there and now $113,000 that's not there," said an exasperated Aubin, who added McGovern had been digging through records trying to find the error. "She has busted her butt trying to solve this variance."

Chairman Mark Denault said he found it difficult to believe the software was providing two different versions, but it was possible and needed to be looked into. The group also wondered if numbers could be changed and felt they weren't getting all the information they needed.

"I think it's important for the treasurer and the accountant to be in the same room," said Denault, suggesting another joint meeting as soon as possible. "I have a hard time believing the system is not running the same thing."

Officials have been focused on ensuring recording mistakes made in the past don't reoccur; much of that has been resolved through new software and training with the software maker and consultation with the auditor. The fact the $113,000 variance has not changed reflects the progress made.

However, Denault suggested that the Selectmen follow up on the police investigation into the errors and call in the attorney general if they are not satisfied with the answers. The Selectmen approved an audit at the last joint meeting.

"If there's something going on we have stop it or it will happen next year," said Selectmen Chairwoman Lily Kuzia.

Meanwhile, officials are grappling with another difficult budget while trying to maintain operations. They had no good news for Highway Foreman Kyle Hurlbut, who submitted a short list of critical needs that includes getting a new one-ton truck.

"This budget is in negative right now, and if the budget is level-funded we would not have the money," Denault told him.

Hurlbut said the highway department also needs repairs to the roof at the town garage, Internet access at the town garage and funding in the roads account.

Instead, he ended up a truck short. His case for how bad the condition of the current one-ton is prompted the Selectmen to park the vehicle. They told him to look into renting one if needed for the short-term but couldn't guarantee how he would get a new one.

Aubin said the town is sitting on $1.4 million, and why couldn't that be used?

"We know what our budget year is looking at, we know we can't put it in the budget, but why can't we use cash to buy a truck?" she asked.

Marsh said much of the money is in accounts that have specific usage, such as cemetery accounts or the school stabilization fund. There is, however, a pool of funds that might be able tapped; there was also a possibility of putting ice and snow deficit separate from the budget, freeing up $50,000. The group decided to look into both possibilities.

Denault said there also could be room in the budget, as the committee looks into it further.

"I think there are things that don't need to be in there and when we have a final, we'll meet again," he said. "I think you've warranted what you ask for."

Tags: fiscal 2015,   municipal finances,   

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