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.

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