October 20, 2021

State audit: County fails to oversee spending since 2015

Cortland County Seal

The Cortland County Legislature hasn’t properly overseen spending since at least 2015, a state audit found — the last time it had an auditor.

County officials said Friday no wrongdoing occurred and they are seeking to hire an auditor.

The audit by the state Comptroller’s Officer covered Jan. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018. A final report released Friday found:
• The Legislature had not audited claims — documentation supporting departments’ purchases — since 2015.

• There is no supervision over the treasurer’s signature on checks, so people other than the treasurer could sign the treasurer’s name to checks.

• The treasurer did not control his signature during check printing.

Legislature Chairman Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville) said the county is interviewing applicants for a county auditor position, which will address one of the comptroller’s key recommendations: create the office of county auditor or county comptroller.

The county abolished the auditor position in 2015, when it created the position of budget and finance director and hired Peggy Mousaw, who left in 2017. However, the audit said those functions were never assigned to Mousaw.

The audit found there was no oversight of spending since 2015 when the auditor was there. That is because the auditor was the only person tasked with reviewing documentation supporting purchases, known as claims packages.

“The typical work activities outlined in the former director’s job description included only pre-audit of claims and the former director told us that the Legislature did not direct her to audit claims,” states the comptroller report. “However, the Legislature also did not audit the claims. As a result, no one has audited claims since the county abolished the county auditor position in 2015.”

The county re-created the auditor position last August on the comptroller’s office recommendation. The position has been renamed to manager of audit and financial projects and will be treated as a department head, but with no set term of office, Whitney said.

“It will no longer be linked to a two-year term, to try to build stability,” Whitney said.

The Comptroller’s Office last audited the county in 2004, Whitney said, adding the county’s financial departments saw a great deal of turnover and instability, and it speaks well of the county’s employees that the audit found nothing worse.

“The state comptroller went through the records and found no wrongdoing whatsoever,” Whitney said. “People picked up the duties they had to do the job and everything’s been done according to the standards that are expected.”

But a member of the county’s Budget and Finance Committee, Chris Newell (R-Cortlandville), said he’s felt like the Legislature is running blind.

“We’re in desperate need of a financial manager and a financial auditor and those are two positions we’re actively trying to fill,” Newell said. “I’ve felt like we’re in a cave, we’re blind, because the numbers we’re trying to make decisions on might be accurate or they might not.”

The audit also found that finance clerks can enter disbursements for funds and apply the treasurer’s signature without supervision. Treasurer Ralph Canfield’s signature was being used on checks even after he resigned.

“The lack of a claims audit, combined with improperly assigned user access rights to the financial software, increases the risk that inappropriate disbursements will be made,” the audit states, although no inappropriate purchases were found among 387 claims totaling $1.2 million and 66 general fund checks totaling $28,630.

The audit also recommends modifying the county’s financial software to define which users can print checks, which Whitney said the county is doing.

The audit also recommends the treasurer should control his signature when it is applied to checks and discontinue assigning user rights.

County Treasurer John Tucker could not be reached for comment.