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Nov 20, 2012 11:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village To Undergo Three Financial Reviews

Nov 20, 2012 2:11 PM

Westhampton Beach Village’s finances will receive plenty of scrutiny over the next few months as they are the subject of a pair of audits and a separate review, the latter of which was requested by trustees after learning about an error that resulted in all of the village’s full-time employees being overpaid by some $22,000.

The two audits, including the village’s regularly scheduled annual review, are now under way. The first is being performed by the Jericho firm Satty, Levine and Ciacco, which has been conducting the village’s audits since 2008. The company, which will be paid just over $23,000, had been known as Lundy and Company prior to being acquired by Satty, Levine and Ciacco. The annual audit always takes place in the fall.

The second audit will be free and completed by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, at the request of Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller; Village Clerk Rebecca Molinaro has classified the state review as a “risk assessment.” The state, which last reviewed the village’s finances in the early 1990s, offered to examine its books last month after Mr. Teller requested the review following concerns about the state of the village finances raised by other trustees.

The state, however, did not inform the village of its intention until after Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker had put forth a resolution last month requesting that the board hire an independent third party, a lawyer and former village clerk from Bellport, to also come in and review Westhampton Beach’s finances after the discrepancies were found. The board agreed to hire former Bellport Village Clerk Scott B. Augustine and pay him $175 per hour, up to $5,000, to do a complete analysis of finances.

Caught over the summer by village officials, the payroll error involved all 34 full-time village employees being overpaid for a day’s worth of work due to the leap year. They have already agreed to pay back the village for the mistake over the next year.

The decision to have three reviews that will cover most of the same ground is opposed by Mr. Teller. Even though a payroll error was found, and since corrected, Mr. Teller said he thinks it is a waste of taxpayer money to spend up to another $5,000 to essentially cover the same ground as the other two audits.

But Mr. Tucker, and at least one other village trustee, disagree, stating that the discrepancies found with the payroll error warrants the third review. Mr. Tucker also said he does not mind spending up to an additional $5,000 to make sure that the village’s books receive all the attention they require. “Our job is to be watching taxpayer money and to be sure that things are working properly,” he said.

Fellow Village Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto previously said that she also agrees with the decision.

The other two trustees—Ralph Urban and Charlie Palmer—were not as adamant in their support for the third review, even though both voted in favor of it. Mr. Urban said on Tuesday that, had he known ahead of time that the state comptroller would be completing the second audit, he would not have voted in favor of the independent review. Mr. Urban said he plans to meet with the state auditor next week.

“Initially, we were concerned about the time frame, and we weren’t sure how long it would take for the state to respond, so that is why we wanted to get into a private situation,” he said.

Mr. Palmer, meanwhile, said the main goal of the three reviews is to correct any errors that might have taken place. He then declined to comment further.

“It’s premature to comment at this time until the board has a full assessment of the financial reporting practices,” Mr. Palmer wrote in an e-mail. “Clearly, errors have been made, but the ultimate goal is that the errors are corrected and safeguards are put in place to reduce financial risk.”

Mr. Tucker has not explained how he knows Mr. Augustine or who recommended his services, and would only say that they are not friends, as alleged by some of those who oppose the multiple reviews. Mr. Teller said he does not know Mr. Augustine’s credentials, explaining that they were never shared with him.

Mr. Augustine, an attorney, did not return calls seeking comment this week.

The desire for an additional audit was raised earlier this fall when Ms. Molinaro’s accounting error was first discovered. Immediately following the discovery, Mr. Teller said he put in a request for the state comptroller’s office to review his village’s records to alleviate concerns raised by trustees. But in October—and before the comptroller’s office had agreed to complete its own audit—the trustees voted 4-1 to support Mr. Tucker’s request to hire Mr. Augustine. Mr. Teller cast the lone dissenting vote.

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