Proving Creative Talent Through Design

CHRIS LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS Rebecca N. Weld is the principal and founder of Renew Architechture & Design in Potsdam.

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Hiring outside firm to balance St. Lawrence County’s bank accounts expected to cost up to $30,000

By SUSAN MENDE
SMENDE@OGD.COM

A private accounting firm has been hired by St. Lawrence County to reconcile dozens of county bank accounts, some that have not been balanced since the end of 2012.

The firm Hoffman Eells & Gray CPAS, P.C., Canton, is being paid $65 an hour to reconcile the county’s checking accounts in several different county departments.

The contract started Oct. 3 and is expected to cost the county between $20,000 and $30,000, according to Deputy County Treasurer Renee M. Cole.

Legislator Donald J. Hooper, R-Ogdensburg, said he was ”distressed” to learn at the Oct. 3 full board meeting that more than 70 bank accounts in several different county departments have not been balanced for an extended period.

“I was shocked. This is Accounting 101. It kind of blew me away,” Mr. Hooper said.

Mr. Hooper is a semi-retired certified public accountant with the Pinto, Mucenski, Hooper & VanHouse law firm, Ogdensburg.

He said not having accurate bank balances forces legislators to make financial decisions based on faulty data, such as whether or not to borrow money to cover projected cash flow shortages. County legislators agreed in September to borrow $9.5 million.

“You can’t make a decision on bad information is what it really amounts to,” he said.

Mrs. Cole said the problem of unbalanced bank accounts predated her being appointed a deputy county treasurer in May 2015. Former county treasurer Kevin M. Felt was running the office until he resigned in January. Mrs. Cole has been in charge of the office for the past nine months.

“This is an issue I inherited,” Mrs. Cole said Tuesday. “I’m not here to point fingers at anyone. I’m just here to address a problem.”

The transition in February 2013 to a new financial software system is partly to blame for bank accounts getting backlogged, she told lawmakers.

“By the time we clearly identified it, it was beyond our ability to handle with the staff we had in-house,” Mrs. Cole said.

Also, she said the arrival of the new software coincided with the departure of a senior account clerk in the treasurer’s office served as the bank reconciliation clerk. The position was filled by someone from another department who needed extensive, time-consuming training.

The county switched to a new external auditing firm this year, Drescher & Mulecki, Cheektowaga. Mrs. Cole said she and her staff had to spent a great deal of time bringing that firm up to speed on county policies and providing other financial information.

“The issue of no reconciliation was cited in the 2013 audit. It probably should have been cited in the 2014 audit as well and I can’t speak to why it wasn’t,” Mrs. Cole said. “I think a serious attempt was made to try to reconcile these in 2014, but some reconciliations were dropped and it was never really wrapped up or finalized.”

Derek R. VanHouse, the Republican candidate for the county treasurer’s job, said he felt that county legislators should have been made aware sooner that multiple bank accounts needed to be reconciled.

“It was a surprise to the legislators.” Mr. VanHouse said. “When you’re talking about cash flow and borrowing money you want to make sure the information is up-to-date and as accurate as possible.”

He is vying for the seat against Mrs. Cole, running on the Democrat and Women’s Equality lines and Robert T. Santamoor running on the Independence line.

Mr. Santamoor, a former deputy county treasurer, said he agreed that new software and staff turnover are to blame for the delay in balancing county bank accounts.

“Renee’s characterization is accurate,” he said.

Mr. Santamoor said he disagreed with Mr. Felt’s decision to let the staff member handling those duties to transfer to another county department.

Mrs. Cole said county officials were not aware until September that the bank reconciliation backlog problem could not be resolved by the external auditor. Auditors said the accounts need to be balanced so they can complete their 2015 audit.

Mr. Hooper said he was “disappointed” that the county’s 2015 audit may not be finished until sometime in 2017.

She noted that the county treasurer’s position has been unfilled since January and she’s essentially been juggling two positions.

“I feel I’ve done the best job I could. I don’t know how this could have been brought forward any sooner,” Mrs. Cole said.

Although the county has more than 70 bank accounts, including checking, savings and trust accounts, Mrs. Cole said a large portion have minimal activity.

She said many are required by the state, such as separate bank accounts for some social services programs.

“We’re required to have different bank accounts for different reasons, but we are looking to identify and close some as part of this reconciliation,” she said.

June 2016: Real Estate Roundup

Realtors meet members of Congress

Lance Evans

Lance Evans

From May 9 to 14, the National Association of Realtors held its Realtor Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. Approximately 8,500 attendees from across the country and around the world attended the annual conference. The week included about 200 meetings and events that covered many real estate topics and allowed NAR members to take an active role in advancing the real estate industry, public policy, and the association. [Read more…]

People On the Move – Sept. 2014

New staff at Bowers & Company CPAs

Bowers & Company CPAs, Syracuse, has hired Nathaniel J. Carroll as a senior tax accountant in its Watertown office. Mr. Carroll earned a bachelor’s degree in 2009 and a masters of professional accountancy in 2010 from West Virginia University. He is a certified public accountant.

Shirley A. Ostrander has also joined the firm as a new staff accountant in the Watertown office. Ms. Ostrander graduated in 1989 from Aquinas University of Legazpi, Philippines, and holds a CPA license in the Philippines. Prior to working with Bowers & Company, she was a staff accountant at Stackel & Navarra CPAs. [Read more…]