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Saturday, August 30, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,

Alissa Scott/Recorder staff Lauren Poehlman and Michael Rossi, accountants hired to balance Amsterdam's bank accounts, and city controller Matthew Agresta field questions during a meeting with the Common Council Tuesday.

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It was a 'perfect storm' City books almost back in order

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 - Updated: 10:45 AM

By ALISSA SCOTT

alissa.scott@recordernews.com

Amsterdam Controller Matthew Agresta said Tuesday that after working with two accountants to balance the city's bank accounts, the financial picture is "not as bleak as everyone thought."

Lauren Poehlman, who was hired to reconcile the city's capital project account, told the Common Council Tuesday she has completely corrected entries up to fiscal year 2010-11.

Addressing a recent audit by the state comptroller's office, Poehlman said the $1.2 million deemed "unaccounted for" is not missing.

"Nothing is missing," Poehlman said. "There was no malfeasance, nothing was done wrong."

Michael Rossi of West & Co. -- the firm hired to balance the rest of the city's books -- said that is partly true. He appeared with Poehlman at Tuesday's meeting.

"Well, there was nothing done that was fraudulent," Rossi said. "But a lot of figures haven't been posted correctly."

Poehlman said all expenditures are accounted for, but much of the city's revenue was never properly recorded. So, the money the state was not able to locate is mostly funds that have been paid to the city.

"I think you had the perfect storm for a while," Poehlman said. "Between the change-over in the system, and the change in administration, no one really had control of it all."

An audit by the state comptroller's office said for the past four years, the city inappropriately recorded its figures, clouding its financial picture.

It said officials had been working with inaccurate accounting records to craft the city's budgets, leaving no way to determine if all revenues were deposited into city accounts. Attempts at reconciliation were unsuccessful in many cases, auditors said.

Rossi told the council his firm had been instructed by Agresta to postpone work until Agresta could determine the work he and his staff were doing was accurate, so as to not muddy West & Co.'s work.

Rossi said he hopes to continue work soon.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. asked the pair if either had any idea about how much money makes up the city's fund balance. The aldermen were given the first draft of the city's budget Tuesday, and Barone said that's an important number to know.

Neither could answer.

But, Poehlman and Agresta both said it's not necessary to know when constructing the budget. Poehlman said a budget is only a "guideline" anyway.

What they should be focused on, she said, is training the current "new" staff.

"I say that they're new not because they're actually new, but because they don't have experience under their belt, and haven't learned how to do these procedures," Poehlman said.

Agresta asked the Common Council to extend Poehlman's contract so she could help train the staff. She said she didn't want to use her previously contracted hours to train, when they should be used for bank reconciliation.

The council unanimously approved a resolution extending Poehlman's contract by 55 hours, not to exceed an additional $5,000.

"I thought we would be done by now," Poehlman said. "But I expect that in the next couple of months, if everything goes smoothly and there are no hiccups, we should get done by then."

She said all day-to-day operations are going smoothly, and she believes they will complete 2014-15 without any mistakes.

Neither Poehlman, Agresta nor Rossi could give a date of completion, but Poehlman said she hopes work will be done within the next couple of months.

     

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