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Feb 8, 2013 12:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Board Delays Five Budget Transfers

Feb 13, 2013 12:31 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board signed off on 18 of 23 proposed budget transfers last Thursday night, financial moves that are needed to close the books on the 2011-12 fiscal year, though members still banged heads over the five transfers that were tabled.

Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker and Village Trustees Patricia DiBenedetto and Charlie Palmer, who had previously delayed approving the transfers when they were lumped together, voted to hold over five of the proposed transfers, totaling $214,000, until an audit was completed by the village’s auditing firm, Satty, Levine & Ciacco in Jericho. The report still is not finished even though it was supposed to be completed mid-January. Instead, trustees ratified only 18 transfers, totaling $34,375.74, last Thursday night.

The resolution to delay the five transfers pertaining to litigation fees, attorney fees, police personnel pay, police overtime and police detective overtime clearly annoyed Mayor Conrad Teller and Village Trustee Ralph Urban. Mr. Teller insisted that the other trustees are unnecessarily delaying closing out the books for the last fiscal year, which ended on May 31, 2012, because of a payroll error that overpaid village employees by several hundred dollars each and has since been corrected.

“This is an independent operation,” Mr. Teller said this week. “A small village that has been fiscally conservative for all its life and, all of a sudden, you are saying the deputy treasurer [Elizabeth Lindtvit] is heinously wrong and the mayor is condoning it? Sometimes I just shake my head.”

The decision to turn the microscope on village finances comes after several months of scrutiny by the trustees after an accounting error made by Village Clerk/Treasurer Rebecca Molinaro, who is assisted by Ms. Lindtvit, resulted in the village’s 34 full-time employees being overpaid by $22,000 total. In October, trustees hired an outside attorney, former Bellport Village Clerk Scott Augustine, to come in and review certain aspects of village finances. At the same time, Mr. Teller requested an audit from the state comptroller’s office; state officials have already reviewed the village’s finances and have found no red flags, Mr. Teller said.

In December, Mr. Augustine recommended that the village hire Satty, Levine & Ciacco to complete additional auditing work focusing on payroll, possible overpayments to police personnel, and sick leave granted to a former village employee.

At last week’s meeting, Mr. Urban expressed concern over waiting for the still unfinished audit, explaining that holding over the transfers is serving no purpose.

“The postponement of these transfers does not solve any problems,” he said. “All they do is postpone closing the books. There is no solution to be arrived at by postponing.”

Ms. DiBenedetto, who has opposed the transfers since they were first put on the agenda in September, said she is uncomfortable approving the five remaining ones, saying she is still awaiting additional information—information that Mr. Teller and Ms. Molinaro say they have already supplied to her and the other trustees.

“It is still a work in progress,” Ms. DiBenedetto said during last week’s meeting. “We still haven’t received all of the information we need, but I agree some should be approved, but some should really be held over until the next meeting.”

Board members spent the next few minutes, both before and after finally voting to delay the five transfers, debating the issues that have divided the board since the fall.

“What has been happening is that things have been leaking out in dribs and drabs,” Mr. Palmer said, referring to the sharing of information. “Police personnel, clerical staff, the fact that some of these things are coming out because Lundy alluded to them—I think it just shows that this is something we should wait on.”

The firm Lundy and Company conducted the village’s audits for several years prior to the firm being taken over by Satty, Levine and Ciacco. John Lundy is one of the auditors now working on the report that was due last month.

During the exchange, Mr. Urban continued to express his displeasure with the delays, stating that the error made by Ms. Molinaro accounts for a small part of the overall budget. Mr. Palmer, who crunches financial numbers for the Suffolk County Police Department, classified the opinion of Mr. Urban, a retired music teacher, as “unqualified.”

Mr. Teller sat in silence for most of the debate, later explaining that he has decided to refrain from commenting again on the matter until the audit is finished. He did take a moment to thank Ms. Molinaro—who the mayor previously said Mr. Tucker had asked him to fire—for her patience and the patience of her staff during the prolonged review process.

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The Mayor states "he shakes his head"? I shake my head at his actions. You would think he would welcome the truth and thank his Trustee for uncovering an error in stead of whitewashing it. I wonder what else can be identified???
By realistic (472), westhampton on Feb 15, 13 2:55 PM
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