COVENTRY – Selectmen and Coventry Treasurer Cindy Diaz will meet at the Community Center tonight to discuss a situation report, submitted by Vermont Auditor Tom Salmon in August, that raises some questions about accounting practices in the town office.
Diaz is also the town clerk.
“I don’t know if there is enough in that report to really say there is any wrongdoing or not,” said Coventry Select Board Chair Mike Marcotte. “I think we need to continue on with this report and an audit of our own that will work off this.”
That audit will tell the select board if there are any problems with the town's finances.
“A situation report is an effective tool to inform citizens and management of issues in order to foster forward progress,” states an informal sheet in the report obtained by the Newport Daily Express Friday. “A situation report is not an audit; it is not intended to place fault, blame or guilt.”
A year ago, the Coventry Select Board asked Salmon's office to determine if the town finances were being handled correctly. In March, Salmon reported that there were deficiencies in procedures and policies. After hearing that, the select board asked Salmon’s office to continue looking at town records so board members could better understand the problem.
Salmon won’t be at tonight’s meeting, but someone else from his office will. Select board members and members of the public will have an opportunity to review the information and ask questions about the report.
“We certainly would like responses from Cynthia on some of the issues that are in there and how we can fix them and go forward,” Marcotte said.
My hope is that people are interested and want to know what’s going on in the treasurer’s office. There is a lot of money that’s in play and we want to make sure that we get the right policies and procedures in place and we have the right people doing the job."
Some of the matters up for consideration:
1) Tax Revenues Accounts: There are no procedures for closing tax revenue accounts (school tax receipts account and the tax clearing account) at the end of the fiscal year. According to the report, it appeared as if these accounts have been holding a "running balance" since Diaz took office in 2004. "There are no procedures for reconciling tax revenue accounts nor is there a reconciliation of actual tax receipts to the general ledger," the report said. As a result, Diaz was unable to provide a summary of tax revenues collected in 2010 and 2011.
2) Commingling of Tax Receipts: All tax receipts (current and delinquent) were posted to the school tax receipt account. By mixing current tax receipts, delinquent penalties and delinquent fees, it's difficult for the treasurer to account for the taxes collected. The town should consider creating separate general ledger accounts to record current taxes, delinquent taxes and late fees, the report suggested. The Town of Coventry should also consider written procedures for reconciling these accounts on a regular basis.
3) Cash Payments: The review could not tell the difference between a check payment and a cash payment on the Town Treasurer's copy of the tax stub. In some instances, Diaz did not deposit cash payments when they came in, but collected the payments, kept them in the vault and deposited the money at a later date in a lump sum. The town treasurer does not maintain a cash journal so the auditor's office was unable to trace and reconcile the cash to the individual taxpayers, the report said.
4) Confirmation Notices: During a visit to the town clerk's office, the review included looking over the Grand List for the 2011 tax year. The auditor's office found that 66 parcels on that list that were not stamped paid. In some cases, the town's records did not agree with the records of the taxpayers. In some cases, the property had been sold, destroyed, or, in one case, sold at a tax sale.
5) Initially, the office could not locate three tax deposits totaling $25,821. A ledger error was found that accounted for the problem.
A long time issue is that there has been no tracking of cash payments even though the select board, in 2005, authorized the purchase of software to do just that, but Diaz chose not to use it.
“I don’t know why,” said Marcotte. “She has since said she will implement the software.”
The select board is working with the software company to possibly obtain help to write policies and procedures. The company could also be a third eye when it comes to the way Coventry handles money.
When contacted Friday, Diaz said she had no comment.