Billing errors lead to R.S. fixes
Accountant notices troubling bookkeeping
— After the town accountant raised serious concerns over the lackadaisical reporting of town finances in an internal memo earlier this year, town officials now say all the inaccuracies and inefficiencies in town hall’s clerical activities have been addressed.
“Not only do we have accountability, but better processes,” Town Commissioner Brian Leishear said.
The issues identified by Patricia Wagner, from the town’s contracted accountant, Wagner and Associates Certified Public Accountants, included improper coding of money into the correct budget item, misunderstanding of software programs and procedures, and what she described as an overall indifference and resistance by the staff to make changes.
Leishear said some of the problems came back to a former mayoral policy in which the town administrator, Calvin Bonenberger, was told not to manage the
town hall staff, but leave that up to the elected body.
“We don’t work with the employees every day. He does,” Leishear said, adding that policy has since been reversed. “It’s all in his wheelhouse.”
Over the past several months, Bonenberger said the staff at Wagner’s has been rehabilitating the town’s process and systems.
“They took everything out of house, made it right and brought it back with a
system of checks and balances,” Bonenberger said.
Leishear read aloud the March 18 letter, which Wagner described as “an update on the ongoing situation” regarding town hall clerical staff, at a meeting earlier this month. The issues were compounded when it came time for the annual audit of the town’s finances, Wagner explained.
“Efficiency saves us time and you money,” she said. “Accuracy and supporting documents seems to be a low priority when it should be of paramount importance in order to maintain proper internal controls.”
Wagner recommended at the time that the town bring all its billing, purchase orders and deposits to her Rising Sun office.
“We would be able to do this work more accurately and cheaply than the town hiring a staff member,” she said. “I feel that your fees for current corrections would likely cover some of our fees to do this additional work.”
The four-page letter details how Wagner has been trying to correct various financial matters since 2013. The accountant first notified the town that her office was receiving inaccurate information on purchase orders, payroll, and water and sewer billing.
“We have been tracking some irregularities in the utility billing system since July of 2013 that have resulted in significant fluctuations in the monthly billing system reports, versus the actual deposit slips from the bank,” Wagner wrote.
Since the departure of Marsha Spencer, town clerk, in February and Pam Haines, billing clerk, in March — both of whom resigned — Wagner and her staff have taken over the clerical duties. In reading the letter at the June 14 town meeting, Leishear said he wanted residents to know that problems had been identified and were being corrected.
For example, he said town hall staff had problems with the software used in creating bills to go to customers of the water and sewer service.
“The town staff was not closing the billing program correctly,” he said of the report. “In a lot of cases, we had processes that weren’t being followed.”
According to Wagner, this “major recurring error” has caused billing discrepancies to be as high as $18,000. Credit card billing for wa-
ter and sewer also caused issues with deposits not matching payments.
“Often the bank account receives several hundred dollars ... more than the closing totals report on a monthly basis,” she reported to the board in August 2015.
Similar to the billing issue, Wagner told the board that town hall staff resisted attempts by her staff to identify and solve the issues at hand.
In March, Wagner told the mayor and commissioners she was troubled by the $19,519.50 that was 120 days past due to utilities, adding there should be an effort to determine if the amounts were true.
“Calvin spent hours just to make sure everything was coded correctly,” Leishear said.
Purchase orders and payroll now come out of Wagner’s office.
“Even though we have more work to do, the process is faster on our end because we do not have to correct the purchase orders,” she told town officials in the letter.
The handling of incoming mail was also noted in the report.
“From May 1, 2014, to June 24, 2015, the town paid $1,012.73 in late fees and other interest charges,” she said. “This appears to be carelessness on the part of the person who opens the mail. At times, we have even seen the wrong years, wrong months, and dates in the future. This appears to us to reflect an indifference towards the job.”
Wagner said the town saves money by sending the payroll information to her office correctly, adding she also corrects time sheets when employees ask for paid leave they have not yet accrued.
Until the town decides how to fill the two open positions, Bonenberger’s wife, Terry, who also has a background in municipal government, has been volunteering her time in the front office. Leishear said the board won’t be considering her for any paid position.
Calvin Bonenberger said now the town has stepped back from the issue to see the broader picture.
“We had to find out what was wrong with the flow of information,” he said.
The new system will have a well-defined set of checks and balances and would include cross training so any employee in town hall can step into another’s role if needed.