Stall on annual audits has Potsdam village officials considering different firm

Posted 2/28/24

POTSDAM -- Village officials recently discussed hiring a new financial auditing firm to handle its yearly audit, citing a slow turnaround on getting annual audit information back.

At the Village …

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Stall on annual audits has Potsdam village officials considering different firm


POTSDAM -- Village officials recently discussed hiring a new financial auditing firm to handle its yearly audit, citing a slow turnaround on getting annual audit information back.

At the Village Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, Feb. 20, the village treasurer and trustees discussed the slow turnaround time on getting the village's annual, mandatory audit back from the Potsdam-based financial firm Pinto Mucenski Hooper VanHouse & Co., CPA's, PC.

The discussion was part of a larger conversation about village finances and budget planning. 

Village trustee Monique Tirion has been raising concerns about the need for greater transparency on the village's day-to-day finances and other aspects of the village budget, especially when trustees are obligated to vote and decide on financially-related resolutions. 

The board agreed last month to hold a special meeting to discuss the issue, but postponed the meeting to allow Village Treasurer Isabelle Gates-Shult to further implement new financial software from the Massachusetts firm ClearGov Inc. The firm provides cloud-based budget cycle management programs for municipal governments. 

The software will allow greater transparency and more interactivity for the trustees and village officials, said Village Mayor Alexandra Jacobs Wilke at the Feb. 20 meeting.

"Our staff, especially Isabelle Gates-Shult, our treasurer, are in some cases at this point, trying to fix an airplane while flying it, I guess is how I would put it," Wilke said. "They've inherited systems from staff who were here for a long time, as have I."

Wilke said with new village officials in place this year, and new board members, the village is in the process of updating how it handles various aspects of municipal business including budget and financial aspects. In some cases, however, still having to use older systems and software during the transition.

"So it's going to be a very busy and work intensive year in preparing our budget," Wilke said.

Wilke said Gates-Shult will be setting up village board members with training on the new ClearGov system once it is fully in place. 

She said the system is very user friendly and will feature a public facing portal and access for trustees to review village finances. The mayor said the new system will increase transparency for the public.

"It's going to be a busy year, but to that point, we are going to have increased transparency on the budget," Wilke said.

The village budget year begins June 1. Village board members traditionally vote on its annual fiscal plan sometime in April after a few weeks of budget work sessions with department heads. Wilke said budget work sessions will be open to the public.

Gates-Shult said village board members would be able to log in to the new system in about a week, and agreed that the new system would offer greater transparency on village finances for the board and the public. 

“I think that ClearGov is going to provide that transparency we keep talking about," said the treasurer.

Tirion said retroactive budget reports from 2018-2023 that Gates-Shult has provided the board have been "inordinately helpful and insightful."

"And have given me a reason to stay on the board," Tirion said. 

Tirion said she felt that as a trustee and a caretaker of village money, that without monthly reports on the budget, there was no reason for her to stay on as trustee as she couldn't make informed decisions on finances without this information.  

"But the other piece of information we must have is the information that's provided by the financial, external auditory report (the annual audit), the financial statement," Tirion said. "For years we got that statement in February, because in February is when we start speeding up and we start talking about the budgeting."

"And, last year, we didn't get it in February and we didn't get it in time to make it part of the budget discussion," she said. Tirion said the audit finally came out later in October and it looks like the late arrival is going to be repeated again this year. The trustee said the roughly 80-page report has a lot of detail that helps trustees make informed decisions on the village budget for the coming year.

Gates-Shult agreed with Tirion and said she had contacted Pinto, the auditing firm, recently to inquire about the status of the audit. The treasurer said she could not get a clear, definitive time as to when the audit would be available, and said it could be up to 8 weeks or more before the village sees it.

Tirion expressed frustration with the delay, and said village officials were somewhat "blind" without the information.

Gates-Shult said the village could circulate a request for proposal among other auditing firms to hire them instead of continuing with Pinto Mucenski Hooper VanHouse & Co.

"Pinto has been the village's auditor for several years, so maybe it is time to reconsider," said Gates-Shult.

Wilke said other non-profit organizations she has been involved with in the past change over auditing firms every few years.

Tirion pointed out that the town of Potsdam is also switching from Pinto.

Village Administrator Greg Thompson said switching auditing firms is actually a healthy process for municipalities.

"It may be a very good point for this village, at this point, to take a look at other services out there, other service providers out there," Thompson said.

"I think there is good rigor happening, good conversations happening," Wilke said at the close of the discussion. "I think these kinds of conversations help move us forward and make things better."