Less gov’t would help

It’s bad enough New York state has so much government.

What makes the problem even worse is that some of that government just isn’t very good.

The area has seen some audits by the state Comptroller’s Office released this year – Mohawk, Northampton, the town of Amsterdam and Florida – that showed flaws in how those governments handled the public’s business. Whatever the cause, the end result has been sloppy government and wasted taxpayer dollars.

In Mohawk, the state Comptroller’s Office found the town supervisor did not maintain accurate and complete accounting records. As a result, the audit said, town officials lacked assurance that enough fund balance was available to pay for budget appropriations. A state audit also hit the town of Amsterdam’s supervisor for failing to maintain timely or accurate accounting records.

An audit in Northampton found the Town Board did not provide adequate oversight and management of the town’s financial operations. The board did not adopt detailed policies and procedures for its budget preparation process, according to the audit, and failed to monitor the costs in the budget against actual operating results during the year.

In Florida, an audit by the state Comptroller’s Office said more than $19,000 of taxpayer funds went missing from the town between 2010 and 2012, with the town clerk allegedly transfering money between accounts under her control.

The report said the town clerk, Jacquelyn Francisco, notified auditors during their review that she feared a family member gained access to taxpayer funds and removed them. The report said insufficient record keeping and oversight led to the missing funds. Francisco eventually resigned, no charges were filed against the relative and the money was paid back to the town.

That these things happen occasionally may be understandable. What should anger taxpayers is that it is a statewide problem among smaller government units typically with only a few thousand residents. Audit after audit throughout the state finds similar problems in places like Newfield, Argyle, Bangor, Benson, Black Brook, Coldspring, Davenport, Dresden, Fishkill, White Creek, Summerhill, Shelby, Rensselaerville, Pittstown, Otto, Otselic, Lindley, Unadilla and Herrings.

Town and village officials don’t try to do a bad job. They generally are good people who stepped up to serve, have busy lives outside of town government and who, sometimes, are ill-equipped to handle the complexity of governing in New York state.

Towns and villages can help themselves by making sure they have someone qualified to handle accounting matters on their staff. Board members should demand that good bookwork and regular financial reports are the norm, not the exception.

The best solution, though, is fewer layers of government. After all, these audits usually don’t show malfeasance or fraud. They show good people who sometimes are in over their heads. This trend of too many positions for too few qualified people is just the latest convincing argument in favor of merging and consolidating layers of government.

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