A Call Upon The Nassau County Comptroller To Follow-Up On Sanitary District Audits
The new Nassau County Comptroller, George Maragos, has been sworn in to office, hot on the heels of the outgoing Comptroller's Financial Audit of the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary District 7. [Where a Commisioner rakes in a million dollars a year. Nice work, if you can get it!]
Will Comptroller Maragos continue the call for transparency, accountability, and efficiency in government, be it at the county level, or down the line in so-called local governments, a/k/a the special taxing districts?
Time alone will tell.
Of course, each concerned citizen should not only be watching the pot for his or her tax dollars, they should also be watching our elected officials, to make certain they are watching the pot.
Okay, we'll keep an eye on officialdom (that's what quality of life watchdogs do, after all). You can do your part by sending an e-mail to Comptroller Maragos -- NCComptroller@nassaucountyny.gov -- asking him to follow-up and take appropriate action, where called for, on the Comptroller's Audits of the previous administration.
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Expecting to reform local government, starting with the special districts? Perhaps we shouldn't be counting on Comptroller Maragos to take the lead here. The Comptroller's "Special Districts" webpage, previously offering hope, inspiration, and a way out of the special district tax mess, now offers little solace, its message replaced with those infamous words, CHECK BACK SOON!
The page has been scrubbed clean with the efficiency of those who, literally overnight, changed every sign in Nassau County to read, Edward P. Mangano, County Executive. Waste no time and spare no expense in bestowing empty platitudes, especially when the taxpayer is picking up the tab!
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Weitzman’s financial audit of Sanitary District 7’s internal controls finds employees working out-of-title & gross lack of Board oversight
Tax rate increases in past years may have been excessive
A second audit released December 30 by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman of Sanitary District No. 7 found that the District’s internal controls were grossly lacking and that three of the five office employees are working out of title, therefore circumventing Civil Service rules. In addition, the audit found that the District held an excessive fund balance that could have been used to lower the tax rate. This limited audit reviewed procedures and internal controls at the garbage district, while the first audit, released on October 29, focused on compensation and benefits granted to employees in that garbage district.
Town of Hempstead Sanitary District No. 7 serves the community of Oceanside and provides curbside garbage collection six days a week (three days a week to each side of the community) for 10,025 residential and 925 commercial properties. In 2008, residential and commercial property owners paid an average of $676 in taxes to pay for garbage collection. Average taxes for garbage collection by the Town of Hempstead in 2008 were $420. The limited audit reviewed internal controls at the District for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. The District is governed by a Board of five Commissioners, each of whom is elected for a five-year term.
The audit took a look at District employees who were working out of title in non-competitive positions, a practice that circumvents Civil Service job requirements. In addition, the salaries paid to these three employees were significantly higher than the salary range for the Nassau County Civil Service title to which each employee had been assigned.
“The District showed complete disregard for the County’s Civil Service rules and procedures,” said Weitzman. “The District made up its own rules for a small group of office employees, while the majority of the laborers in the sanitary district had to play by the rules.”
For example, the individual who performed the entire accounting function for the District has a Civil Service title of “Messenger.” The Messenger title is non-competitive and therefore no Civil Service exam is required, unlike the accounting positions, which require an exam. The employee cited in the audit performed accounting duties that aligned with an “Accountant I” Civil Service position, not a Messenger. In addition, an Accountant I position requires a Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, which the District employee did not have. A messenger’s salary range in 2008 would have been between $21,917 and $38,871; however, the employee received a salary of $93,662 in 2008.
Other examples cited in the audit included the District’s secretary. Her Civil Service title was also “Messenger,” but her duties actually were more in line with a “Clerk I” title, a competitive title that requires an exam. Her base salary was $96,854 in 2008, much more than a Nassau County Clerk I title salary range of $22,711-$40,970.
Auditors also found that in 2006 the District overspent its budget by $223,069 and used $302,929 of its unappropriated fund balance to fill the hole, with no approval from the Town of Hempstead Board , which reviews and approves the District’s spending plan. According to a study by the New York State Comptroller’s Office, a special district’s fund balance should include a cushion for unforeseen expenses, but should not be excessive. Auditors found that the district’s $1.6 million fund balance at the end of 2008 was “considered excessive based on the New York State Comptroller’s study.”
“These fund balances should not be used to cover excessive spending above and beyond the District’s budget plan, but rather to lower the tax levy for homeowners,” Weitzman said.
The audit also revealed that the District had been retaining the same outside auditor for over 20 years and that the District employees responsible for maintaining the books and records were inadequately qualified for the job. The audit recommended that the District hire an individual, even if on a part-time basis, which has the necessary accounting expertise to oversee all aspects of the District’s accounting functions.
The audit also called for more adequate segregation of duties in the District office.
“This District has a concentration of key duties, such as recording cash receipts, cash disbursements, updating the general ledger, safekeeping of checks and performing bank reconciliations with one person,” said Weitzman. “State guidelines recommend that that these kinds of accounting functions should be separated so that controls cannot be circumvented.”
Other shortcomings noted in the audit were inadequate written policies and procedures, lack of oversight by the District’s Board of Commissioners; and the unbudgeted purchase of two garbage trucks at a cost of $174,096 each.
A copy of the audit report was also sent to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the New York State Public Employment Relations Board and the Nassau County Civil Service Commission.