State Auditors Will Check Town Books

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Auditors from the New York State comptroller’s office have ordered a full audit to be done of East Hampton Town’s books, a process that could take up to year to complete.

State accountants have been working at Town Hall since last month, conducting a review of town fiscal policy known as a risk assessment. Last week, the auditors made the determination that a more thorough examination of the financial management of the town is needed.

According to a spokesperson from the state, Jennifer Freeman, the audit will specifically be looking at a wide variety of internal controls and fiscal management policies, and the overall financial conditions of the town. She said the audit will examine the control of assets, revenues and expenditures, and will ensure that there are proper safeguards on resources and adequate levels of accountability on things such as travel vouchers, purchase orders and receipts.

As part of the audit, the state will also issue a series of recommendations for improvements in procedure and policy.

Ms. Freeman said the auditors will be interviewing town officials, employees and members of the public that do or have done business with the town. She said the process typically takes between six months and a year. She would not say how many state employees will be based in East Hampton while the work is done.

The state auditors have been working out of the former Town Justice Court offices in Town Hall.

The call for a state audit was welcomed by at least one member of the Town Board this week.

“I’m very glad to hear that,” Councilman Pete Hammerle said on Monday when told of the state’s decision to conduct a full audit. “They can help us with a corrective action plan—tell us how to get out of this mess.”

Councilwoman Pat Mansir said the planned audit and the criticism this week of the use of Community Preservation Fund revenues to cover various town expenditures should be a wake-up call for the town’s money managers.

“I think we need a major shake-up in that whole east wing,” she said of the part of Town Hall where the budget office, bookkeeping department and supervisor’s offices are. “I think [Supervisor Bill McGintee] is learning from all this attention … that everything needs to be much more open.”

The town’s 2006 independent audit revealed that the town budget that year had been overspent by some $5 million and that the town was carrying a $3.3 million deficit. Supervisor Bill McGintee said recently that he expects the deficit to grow slightly when the 2007 audit is completed later this year but that it should level off or start to shrink after the 2008 fiscal year.

The supervisor has said that significant spending cuts, including possibly layoffs of town employees, and tax increases will be needed to erase the deficit. He has said he believes the town could be back in the black, and start rebuilding a budget surplus, within three years.

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