Friday, March 27, 2009

Comptroller for New Hartford?

While we are pleased to see that the Observer Dispatch Editorial Board has finally acknowledged Concerned Citizens questioning of town officials regarding the contract with Frank Basile,
New Hartford appeared ready to continue down this path, budgeting $100,000 for Basile in 2009. But the town pulled back last month, perhaps not coincidentally after the Concerned Citizens of New Hartford group began asking questions.
we have to disagree as far as calling for a comptroller position in New Hartford. The editorial starts by saying:
We would not normally recommend that a municipality add any new positions during these difficult financial times. Taxpayers cannot afford it.

But in the town of New Hartford, taxpayers can no longer afford not to create a new position.
We disagree, the Town of New Hartford can no longer afford to do business as usual with the Earle Reed administration.

While hiring a comptroller may be necessary in the end, some housekeeping is in order before the town spends one more dollar of taxpayer monies on financial recordkeeping. The fact that Ms. Fairbrother is paid over $58,000 a year, plus benefits, is reason to question just what is it she does to earn that money. Her salary is far above what the average bookkeeper makes, yet Attorney Sciotti's Opinion Letter regarding the $71,544 in overtime states that she is merely a bookkeeper.

Ms. Fairbrother also has an assistant, Ms. O'Sullivan, who by her own admittance is an English major, not a bookkeeper. Ms. O'Sullivan makes $22,272 plus benefits according to the 2009 Adopted Budget. Then there is Frank Basile with a $100,000 budget line in 2009 yet his actual billing amounted to over $120,000 in 2008 as financial consultant. Additionally, part of the town's budget each year includes money for bond counsel and financial advisors to handle any bonding that needs to be done; the 2009 budget allows $12,500 to be spent in that respect. That equates to well over $200,000 a year to handle financial matters in our town.

Instead of running out to hire a comptroller (by the way, the Reed administration already tried that and somehow the town ended up with Frank Basile as Financial Consultant), it might be time to look at the current job descriptions and division of job responsibilities and make some changes. Perhaps we no longer need a bookkeeper and it would be more prudent to replace that job with a comptroller. Perhaps we need to fill the account clerk position for $22,272 with someone who knows something about bookkeeping instead of someone who is an English major. There is no excuse for the Town of New Hartford to be paying over $200,000 a year to manage their finances. It is time to start being more prudent with taxpayer dollars.

We also note that the current administration never wastes a moment to push the blame on the previous administration. The editorial states:
The position was eliminated in January 2002 by then-Town Supervisor Ralph Humphreys and approved by the Town Board as a way to save money...

Since the job was scrapped, taxpayers have had to pay an inordinate amount of money for accounting and financial services — work that could largely be handled by a professional financial officer.
Supervisor Reed is in the last year of a four-year term as Town Supervisor...time to stop playing the "blame game" Mr. Reed. The previous Town Supervisor cut the position to save money AND because, as a businessman, Mr. Humphreys was confident that he could handle the job himself. Carol Fairbrother even told Concerned Citizens that Mr. Humphreys would sit down with her and they would do the bookkeeping together. Mr. Humphreys was a "hands on" Town Supervisor. We are now paying an inordinate amount of money because the current Town Supervisor is not experienced in financial matters, nor does he care to take part. Ms. Fairbrother told Concerned Citizens that Earle Reed never attended one budget meeting...it was all left up to Frank Basile at $150 an hour, Frank Basile's assistant at $80 an hour and Ms. Fairbrother at $32 an hour. It's not rocket science; does it really take over $250 an hour to prepare the town budget?

The editorial goes on to say:
Reed has left the impression that he’s disengaged from important town matters. And that might be part of the problem. He spends some of the winter at his home in Florida and is often difficult to reach. That’s troubling because a town supervisor needs to be easily accessible and fully engaged with the town. That is especially so in New Hartford, which has positioned itself as the region’s commercial hub and retail center.
That is not only part of the problem...it's the whole enchilada!

Next blog we will be showing you some of the ridiculousness of the items on Mr. Basile billings to the town.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if we had a new town board next year. 3 of the 5 seats are up for grabs in November. NH residents, please vote for change this year.

frankcor said...

Has anyone taken the time to figure out how many hours it takes to do the books for New Hartford? I'm not certain anyone can conclude whether or not the town needs a full or part-time comptroller until you know how much time the task requires.

New Hartford, N.Y. Online said...

Frankcor,

That's exactly our point. No one extra should be hired until job responsibilites are clearly defined.

The bookkeeper told us that she was only doing a small part of each transaction after Frank Basile's contract was approved by the board. She said she thought they didn't want her to know the "whole story" about town transactions. She was worried so she started keeping records to protect herself. So, if she wasn't doing as much as she previously did, the question is why did she still need so much overtime...to create her own records to cover her butt?

In 2007, Earle Reed transferred the responsibility of payroll from the bookkeeper to the Personnel Dept. So why did the bookkeeper still need so much overtime if she was no longer doing payroll?

Things just don't add up.