December 6, 2021

County awaiting $1 million withheld by state

Cortland County Seal

The state is withholding at least $1 million in aid because Cortland County failed to file annual financial documents for 2017 and 2018 on time, even as it paid more than $370,000 to reconcile the accounts and file the proper paperwork.

“We’re owed around $1 million just for grants in my division,” Scott Roman, the county director of Emergency Response and Communications, said Thursday.

Those grants help cover radio maintenance and upgrades, work to the future 911 center at 22 W. Court St. and some payroll. He said those items were still paid as the county fronts the money and is then reimbursed.

An audit by the state Comptroller’s Office released in December stated that $19,300 was being withheld from the county until it complied with audit requirements. The audit period was originally Jan. 1, 2017, to Sept. 6, 2018, but was extended back to Jan. 1, 2012 “to analyze financial trends.”

That audit had found the county lacked so much essential financial information, key financial officials and policies and procedures that the legislature should not have been making financial decisions.

The county hired The Bonadio Group for $10,000 in September 2018 to submit the 2017 annual update document — a financial report to the Comptroller’s Office — by the annual April 30 deadline. It did not have the document done until October 2019, 2 1/2 years after it was due. The cost of services ended up being $13,000, said Andrea Herzog, the county director of finance.

She said the county did not need the Bonadio Group to file the 2018 annual update document because she was able to handle the paperwork. The 2018 annual update document is close to being submitted, Herzog said, noting she is just waiting on a few more documents from some departments.

Part of the reason for the delay in ling the update document was because county records were in disarray.

Peggy Mousaw, when she was hired in April 2015 as the director of budget and finance, had all the duties of a budget officer and some of the duties of a county administrator. Mousaw left her position in September 2017. It is unclear why the 2017 document wasn’t turned in on time that year.

The county then hired a temporary fiscal officer in April 2018, but wanted someone someone else to focus on the document. The county thought independent auditors it had hired could complete the document, but that wasn’t possible.

The county hired two temporary fiscal advisers in July 2018 to help with the county’s 2019 budget. One being former county Treasurer Ralph Canfield. Mulvihill said Canfield completed his duties with the budget, but declined to complete the document.

The county sought an independent accountant, but that peson backed out over differences regarding the contract.

The county had to hire ProNexus — an accounting firm — to rebuild and reconcile county accounts.

“They finished that in September,” Herzog said, with her help.

The county originally hired the firm at a cost not to exceed $173,500, but spent $358,317 or more than twice that.

The county is also still working to get everything audited.

“We are working very hard to get everything current,” Herzog said.

Roman’s department wasn’t the only one affected though. The Health Department deposited a check Jan. 8 for more than $46,000 in federal funds for emergency preparedness grant that are funneled through the state.

About $34,000 was for October 2018 through June 2019; the remaining $12,000 was for July through September.

Herzog said the time it takes to get a reimbursement varies by department, noting some state departments are years behind in reconciling their accounts, while others will send reimbursement within a month of receiving the request for reimbursement.

“Services were not impacted as expenditures were already budgeted,” said Catherine Feuerherm, the director of the Health Department.

Herzog said with records straightened out she does expect to turn in the 2019 annual update document on time.

County Administrator Rob Corpora said staff in the Finance Department has already been pushing themselves to get everything in order and so, he hasn’t needed to give them directive.