Audit Raises More Questions In Westhampton Beach Village

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An audit detailing Westhampton Beach Village finances is raising more questions than it is answering, with board members still split over what the roughly 300-page document actually concludes about the municipality.

Because the auditor who prepared the report, John Lundy of Satty, Levine & Ciacco, has been unable to meet with them due to illness, trustees have been left to interpret the document’s findings on their own. Mr. Lundy has not returned calls from The Press in recent weeks.

While it is clear in a heavily redacted copy of the report obtained last week by The Press that there are some financial issues—specifically, payroll errors and questions about contractual payments made to Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean and approved by Mayor Conrad Teller—it remains unclear what, if anything, needs to be done to address them.

The copy of the document released to The Press, following the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request, contains approximately 60 pages of redacted material—and all of the Village Board members have declined to share what those pages contain. Village Clerk Rebecca Molinaro said Village Attorney Richard Haefeli had those pages redacted because they contain the opinions of Mr. Lundy, which are permitted to be kept confidential. The released report does not suggest that any money has gone missing from Village Hall, as has been emphasized by Mr. Teller after state auditors also looked at the village’s finances. But the audit makes it clear that two payroll errors were committed by village staffers—one resulting in the overpayment of $22,000 total to all the municipality’s employees due to a mistake made by Ms. Molinaro, while a second mistake was made while attempting to correct the first error, resulting in the village taking back too much money.

At the request of board members, Mr. Lundy also focused on payments made to Chief Dean and approved by Mr. Teller over the past 18 months. Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker and Village Trustees Patricia DiBenedetto and Charlie Palmer all have concerns about him wielding too much power.

“Just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you can rightfully spend all of it,” she said. “You have to account for everything that is spent, and that is our job as trustees. We are responsible to make sure that we have documentation to show how money was spent.”
Payroll Error
The original payroll error triggered the financial examinations, with Mr. Tucker, Mr. Palmer and Ms. DiBenedetto insisting that Ms. Molinaro and the mayor, who hired the village clerk, were trying to ignore the issue. They countered that they were correcting the problem and that such errors are common.

In his report, Mr. Lundy shows through a series of charts that Ms. Molinaro and her staff made a second miscalculation when attempting to correct the first mistake. Mr. Lundy’s office is providing the village with a way to correct the mistake.

As part of the payroll analysis, the annual steps increases for all office staffers also were evaluated. According to Mr. Tucker, the step increases were inconsistent with the raises outlined in the employee contracts—which is why the trustees requested a review. Mr. Tucker believes that workers received more than the 2-percent raises they were supposed to receive annually—a charge that Ms. Molinaro said is incorrect. She explained that workers all received 2-percent raises, as dictated by their contract, and received an step raise that is based on their contract.

She said for the current year’s budget, the village opted not to use the steps system for office employees going forward, and instead granted identical raises for all employees.

The two payroll errors, combined with a perceived lack of transparency from Mr. Teller, have prompted Mr. Tucker, Mr. Palmer and Ms. DiBenedetto to propose eliminating the village clerk position and, instead, hiring a village administrator.
Contractual Payments
Another section of the report addressed contractual payments made to Chief Dean and other police department members. For the police chief, Mr. Lundy looked through the Employee Earning Record, which outlined specific payments, listed as “other,” that, in one instance, totals more than $35,000.

But Mr. Teller said they are contractual payments made retroactively to Chief Dean. He explained that Chief Dean worked for several years without a contract and, after signing a new contract in 2011, was awarded his accrued vacation and sick time.

Mr. Tucker also criticized the mayor for spending $2,737.29 in taxpayer money to hire former village attorney Hermon Bishop to oversee the 2011 village election. Mr. Tucker, who is the deputy mayor, said Mr. Teller should have used his own campaign money to hire Mr. Bishop.

But Mr. Teller said the hiring was legitimate because Mr. Bishop was brought in to oversee the entire election and was not there to represent his specific party.

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