Council weighing whether to have firm help shore up weak financial areas

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — Officials are considering whether to hire the firm that conducted a risk assessment of internal financial controls to help shore up the town’s practices.

The Town Council is reviewing quotes from The Bonadio Group to assist the town in addressing areas that are weak.

Council Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas on Sept. 21 gave the council the firm’s quotes.

Council member Patricia Geary said it’s worth considering, but officials need more time to look over the options presented by the firm carefully, and discuss the cost and benefits of them.

The council agreed and didn’t take any action on the matter. The council is expected to discuss it again at its next meeting in October.

The council hired The Bonadio Group, a New York-based firm, for $39,750 last November to review the town’s financial controls and policies. The assessment was done in response to the theft of about $294,000 from a town payroll account from December 2017 to November 2018. The theft became public in January 2020, when state police announced an arrest in the case.

Officials released the firm’s report in August. The firm looked into eight areas of the town’s financial operations, including revenues, billings and receivables; cash receipts and banking; capital assets; information technology; and payroll and human resources. The firm reviewed random samples of financial documents and information from June 30, 2014, through June 30, 2019, and concluded five of the eight areas were at a high risk for fraud.

The report’s key findings included that the town didn’t developed formal documented policies for many internal controls; there were no documentation of controls performed, when they were done and who did them in many instances; and there’s little training of staff in accounting and internal controls.

In an interview the week before the Sept. 21 council meeting, Slapikas said the town has been working to address issues raised in the report since the firm started its assessment. He said the town can’t dwell on what happened in the past and needs to move forward.

“We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Slapikas said the town developed a policies and procedures manual that is being revised; the town treasurer’s job description has been updated to include specific duties; additional reports, like weekly payroll totals, are provided to the council monthly; a new part-time municipal accounting assistant was created; and more checks and balances are in place, including requiring two signatures on reconciliation statements.

The town has also issued a request for proposals for consulting services to assess the town’s information technology infrastructure and propose a strategic technology plan. Proposals are due by Oct. 8.

The Bonadio Group’s assessment report recommended the town perform a complete IT assessment. The town currently has a contract with Lightning P.C. of Prospect for IT services, and has a part-time employee that handles the town’s website and social media.

Council member Megan Patchkofsky said the RFP is seeking a complete assessment of the town’s IT infrastructure, including hardware, software and security, to determine what the town needs based on its size. Using this information, she said, officials want to go out to bid for a company to manage IT for the town.