Kent Democrat pushes for state review of finances

(Original publication: , 20)

KENT A town councilman yesterday repeated his call for a state review of Kent's finances, two days after the town's auditor pointed out faulty bookkeeping and record-keeping practices that echoed similar findings by the state comptroller in 1999.

"I still intend to call the state comptroller's office to see if they can help us with a corrective plan," said Councilman Joseph D'Ambrosio, the board's lone Democrat, who wrote to the state comptroller's office earlier this year.

The latest audit focused on 2000. It was presented by Kent's auditor, Domenick Consolo of Bennett, Kielson, Storch, DeSantis and Company, during a raucous Town Board meeting Monday night. Its most glaring criticism was the size of Kent's unused budget surplus, $3.6 million as of Dec. 31, 2000. The audit presented this week also faulted the town for unbalanced account ledgers, expending money before appropriating it to the proper account and not including necessary information in its budget concerning capital projects.

The meeting featured protracted arguments among some board members and shouts from the audience, questioning Republican Supervisor Annmarie Baisley's accounting skills. Baisley is a former county auditor and Kent town accountant.

"We have some serious in-house problems," resident Michael Tierney said as D'Ambrosio compared the latest findings to the 1999 state report, which covered Jan. 1, 1998, through May 10, 1999.

The 1999 state review also took issue with the size of the town's fund balance and criticized its accounting records for being incomplete and inaccurate.

While there is not a set level for how much extra money a town should retain, financial analysts frown on raising amounts greater than necessary to provide anticipated services. Kent residents pay the highest town taxes in the county.

The surplus, the White Plains-based accounting firm wrote, should also be dedicated to various projects as part of a multiyear plan instead of merely applied to the following year's budget.

"Make a decision on the fund balance," Consolo said. "The rest of these items are housekeeping items. Most of these problems will go away on their own with a recurring audit."

Consolo also suggested creating a town comptroller's position. This would remove many of the bill-paying duties from Baisley and the board and allow them to concentrate on "policy-making." The board will discuss creating such a position at its March 11 work session.

Baisley yesterday said the town's fund balance stood at about $1.8 million. Since Dec. 31, 2000, some had been appropriated for subsequent budgets, she said. She said she welcomed a visit by state auditors.

"Let the state come in and look everything over. There's nothing to hide; there's never been," Baisley said.

In a Feb. 11 reply to D'Ambrosio, the assistant director of the state comptroller's municipal affairs division acknowledged that the town's recent audit showed similar findings to the state's 1999 review.

"Therefore, it appears that what is needed is not another audit, but rather corrective action in response to the audits that have already been completed," wrote Cole H. Hickland. "If requested, our regional office responsible for Putnam County might be able to provide some assistance in developing a corrective action plan.

A spokesman for the comptroller's office didn't return telephone messages yesterday.


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005