Ancram puts plenty of eyes on the money trail

ANCRAM–If there’s one thing Ancram Town officials keep their eyes on it is town money.

In a time of economic uncertainty, budget shortfalls and unscrupulous bookkeepers, the January 19 Ancram Town Board meeting was an occasion for sharing with the public what is involved in getting and keeping a grip on town finances.

Supervisor Art Bassin called 2011 “a good financial year,” and reported that the town ended the year with $569,000 in the bank. That figure does not include the fourth quarter sales tax check, which was expected to be about $60,000, an amount included in 2011 revenues in accordance with state accounting rules.

Revenues will total around $1.5 million, about $100,000 more than expected, and expenses will total $1,593,000 or about $90,000 less than anticipated.

Over the next month, each town board member will come to Town Hall and review the financial processes of the town clerk/tax collector and the town supervisor. The financial records kept by the Town Court and the town Building Department were reviewed at a special meeting January 14 and found to be in order.

The town’s financial records were reviewed last year by a consultant familiar with the audit process.

Mr. Bassin reminded board members about the issues identified by the consultant as possible trouble spots so they can be aware of them as they are doing their audits. They are: checks are in the possession of the town accountant; town accountant electronically transfers funds between internal town accounts and the town accountant does bank account reconcilements and prepares checks.

Town Accountant Brian Fitzgerald was at the meeting and told the board that another issue identified by the consultant, that the town accountant electronically transfers funds to IRS, state tax department and state pension fund, is incorrect. Those agencies take money from the town accounts; the accountant does not transfer the money to them.

Mr. Bassin explained in a phone interview Wednesday that it makes more sense to carry on with the town’s current methods and monitor them rather than to change the way things are done. The entire financial process is overseen not only by the supervisor, the town clerk and the Town Board, but also the Financial Advisory Council, an independent non-Town Board entity that most towns don’t have.

Town Clerk/Tax Collector Monica Cleveland, whose books must also be audited, told board members about how her records are organized and what they can expect. Mrs. Cleveland said she collects about $3 million in taxes yearly and it takes her between 15 and 20 hours to get the tax bills assembled and sent out. When the tax collection period is over, Mr. Cleveland said, she writes a check for the amount she has collected to the county. “My hand shakes when I write that check,” she said.

Town Justice Bob Wilcox gave the 2011 annual Town Court report. Actual court expenses for last year were $2,732 or 11.8% below the $23,250 budget.

Justice Wilcox said “more vigorous enforcement of DWI laws” will drive an anticipated increase in litigation and the court also expects that having the new sheriff’s substation in Hillsdale will increase vehicle and traffic law and DWI activity.

In his report, Justice Wilcox said most statistical indicators were up in 2011.

Town Highway Superintendent Jim MacArthur also got in on the money talk, telling the board he obtained two bids for a new metal roof for the old milk factory building, now the town’s salt/sand shed. Installed by Highway Department personnel, a green metal roof will cost the town $6,982.95 and a shiny metal roof will cost $6,456.85. The board decided to go with the green metal since the new highway garage is green and the green is more “aesthetically pleasing.”

Supervisor Bassin was pleased because the town had budgeted $20,000 for the new roof.

Mr. MacArthur also got the go ahead to sign up with the Bureau of Federal Property Assistance, a web site where the town can buy military surplus equipment. It doesn’t cost the town anything to sign up and it could get some good buys on trucks. “I don’t think they’ll sell you a tank,” said Mr. MacArthur.

The next regular meeting of the Town Board is February 16 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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