21 Aug 2014
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Village Extends Services of Financial Auditing Firm in 3-2 Vote

Village Trustees of Westhampton Beach debate merits of financial audit during Wednesday's meeting.

Village Extends Services of Financial Auditing Firm in 3-2 Vote

It was clear during Wednesday night's Westhampton Beach Village trustees meeting that the board remains divided when it comes handling accounting discrepancies that relate to over and underpayments of village employees.

During the meeting, trustees voted 3-2 to extend the services of the village's auditing firm, Satty, Levine & Ciacco, at a cost not to exceed $7,100 to help remediate the accounting errors that were verified by an outside attorney, who submitted a finding report to the village this week.

The village pays Satty, Levine & Ciacco $30,000 a year for a scheduled annual audit.

In the 10-page report, former Village of Bellport attorney Scott B. Augustine suggested the village retain their auditing firm to follow-up on the discrepancies and provide recommendations on how to avoid them in the future. He also indicated that the village's attempt to correct overpayments also resulted in underpayments to employees.

Augustine was hired by the village in a 4-1 vote with Mayor Conrad Teller voting no in early October.

"As trustees our role is finances and we need to be accountable for them. It is a matter of looking at proper procedures and policy and how to properly document. We need assistance with this," said Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto, adding that spending another $7,100 is necessary to ensure that the village is being prudent and transparent when it comes to taxpayer's dollars.

Both Mayor Teller and Trustee Ralph Urban voted against the measure, though for different reasons.

"I am not against it," said Urban. "I just want to first wait until we get a preliminary finding from the state."

Last week, according to village officials, the state's comptroller's office, at the request of the Village mayor, stepped in to asses the village's finances. They are currently reviewing the books.

Meanwhile, Teller argues that he believes there is no need for the village's auditors to do any additional work.

"If they want to pay them more money than that is alright. I don't see a need for it," said Teller, adding that some of the items brought up as discrepancies have never been brought to his desk.

According to Teller, there was an issue with overpayments, however, it has been addressed and the latest resolution is simply part of a witch hunt.

"As far as I am concerned, they are committing the most despicable character assassination that I have ever been privy to," he said.

In the past, fingers have been pointed at Village Clerk Rebecca Molinaro, who in her role as clerk handles most of the bookkeeping.

In an article posted on Patch in October, Molinaro spoke to the overpayment of $22,000 to 40 employees, saying that it is an error related to village's budget cycle and that the overpayments have been recouped. To prevent the error from happening again, she suggested that the village adjust its pay period, however that would require the village to negotiate with two of its unions — something that Mayor Teller said he is in the process of doing.

  • Related: Village Clerk: New Payroll Schedule Needed to Prevent Errors

But DiBenedetto said it is not just about the overpayment of employees. She said there are questions regarding $248,000 in budget transfers to various village departments.

"The accounting doesn't add up," said DiBenedetto, who said she hopes that the village's auditing firm can figure out the numbers.

"I want to see how the numbers were arrived at," she said.

Mayor Teller insists that the village's books are straight and always have been when it comes to budget transfers.

"We have never, ever had a problem with transfers," said Teller, adding that the majority of transfers are related to police overtime and gas charges, which generally increase.

"Yes, we had an error," said Teller, "But it's not a big deal. Errors are a fairly common thing. I have worked for the village for 18 years and have never seen taxpayer money wasted. We are a thrifty village."

At the very least, the entire issue regarding the village books, said DiBenedetto, has opened up a conversation among trustees — something that rarely occurred before.

"Our meetings used to be seven minutes long, now we are talking, discussing and all of our voices are being heard and listened to," she said.

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