State orders audit of city books

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

A state audit will soon be performed on the city of Amsterdam's financial operations.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Ann Thane, dated Dec. 21, 2012, from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), it explains that the city was selected for the audit for a period "determined after we complete our preliminary assessment of the city's operations."

The letter says that the state plans to begin its audit fieldwork within the next several weeks.

Within the list of records and information needed to review during the audit, the state listed various records such as cash receipt journals, general and revenue ledgers, bank reconciliations, purchase requisitions and orders, and record of all indebtedness, among others.

However, Thane said Wednesday during a Common Council meeting in City Hall that she has requested the audit get pushed back a few months in light of the recent death of the late city Controller Ronald Wierzbicki.

"I have a call in to them (OSC) which will probably put that off a little further," she said. "I talked with their office today and I don't think it's going to be an issue at all."

Thane said the work already done by the city "will prepare us."

The letter did leave one council member questioning its meaning, though.

According to an Oct. 5, 2012, letter from the OSC, obtained by the Recorder, Wierzbicki sent a request to the OSC on Oct. 2 asking that a financial audit be performed on the operations of the finance office.

"I will take [your] request under consideration," the response letter read. "I want you to let you know that we conduct performance audits, we do not conduct financial audits, as you reference in your request."

This statement left 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas baffled.

"That says they don't do financial audits," he said. "I'm confused. You tell me you don't do it, then you tell me you're going to do it. What's going on?"

Brian Butry, the deputy press secretary at the OSC, said Wednesday that the audits the office conducts fall into two categories: internal control audits and performance audits.

"In an internal control audit, we review and test a local government's policies and procedures to make sure that local officials are maintaining and using public resources properly," he said. "A performance audit on the other hand assesses how efficiently local governments are running their programs and will help identify cost savings, et cetera."

Butry said the one being done on the city is a performance audit, but the scope of the audit could change once OSC auditors are "on the ground and meeting with local officials."

"The request for the financial audit was from the city controller's office, looking at their accounting records and their financial transaction, and that's obviously something that our office does not do," he said.

That would be something that an outside certified personal accounting firm would handle, Butry added.

Dybas said either way, from an auditing perspective the audit could take time.

"They'd be very fortunate if within a year they could solve anything," he said. "That's my humble opinion."

As for the possible accounting firm for a possible financial audit, Dybas said it would require heavy monetary resources to accomplish.

"I've heard people say, 'why don't you hire an accounting firm?' What do you think it's going to cost us to hire an accounting firm and what are we going to have once we're done with it? A 'thank you very much, you owe us however hundreds of thousands of dollars?'" he posed.

"My main concern, objective? I want the thing fixed. I'm tired of hearing excuses. I'm tired of hearing 'I don't know.' I just want it fixed. I want to get on with it. We've sent too much time on it already."

Interim city Controller Joy Chiarello said Wednesday that she could not comment on the audit as she had only heard about the it over the past week.

"I'm only just finding out about this now and trying to keep operations going the best they can," she said.

Following the Common Council meeting Wednesday, 3rd Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi said she is hoping the findings of the coming audit aren't "horrid," but also believes the audit is necessary at this time.

"As scary as it is in a way, I think it's also necessary and hopefully it will just be another layer of checks and balances that will help us moving forward and getting things straightened out," she said. "Certainly, it can't hurt having someone else looking at what's going on."