Park audit cites deficient records

05/06/2010 12:00 AM |

Scott, Travis and Nicole Albrecht of Albrecht Earthwork in Mattituck plant ornamental grasses Saturday to ready Veterans Memorial Park for the spring and summer months.

Almost a year after two Mattituck Park District commissioners raised questions about former commissioners’ expenses, an audit cited a lack of written policies and insufficient records of cash receipts for the fiscal year 2008.

By the time the report was issued early this year, the commissioners had already taken steps to implement policies to ensure that district tax money is properly handled, according to Nicholas Deegan, commission chairman. The commissioners hired the firm Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck and Company of Hauppauge to conduct the audit, which was recently made available by one of the commissioners.

But former chairman Gerard Goehringer charges that the audit was faulty because it was done without records he says he left in the district office but which Mr. Deegan says are missing.

During his administration, Mr. Goehringer said in an interview, all receipts were available for examination at monthly meetings, payment of bills was approved in open session and records were kept on file at the district office.

“We gave them what we could find,” Mr. Deegan said of the 2008 records he had provided to the auditors.

“The audit speaks for itself,” Mr. Deegan said, repeating his earlier assertion that there were “serious deficiencies” in record keeping that the commission has since rectified.

“We’ve tightened up the practices,” Mr. Deegan said, referring to past practices he called “sloppy record keeping.”

When Mr. Deegan and Commissioner Doris McGreevy asked for the audit last summer, they questioned what they said were unusually high expenses for gasoline and cell phones.

Last year, the commissioners cancelled 15 gas credit cards and required that anyone who travels on district business provide a mileage record for reimbursement. Commissioners also instituted an internal audit of cell phone use and Mr. Deegan said there is now “an effective and efficient use of phones.”

They also instituted controls for money collected at various district facilities, noting that they saw an increase in revenues last summer compared to 2008, despite a very rainy June and overall cool summer.

Mr. Goehringer defended the gasoline and cell phone expenses, arguing that commissioners were in the midst of a major building project at Veterans Memorial Park that required a lot of travel and constant communication among commissioners to oversee the work at the new building.

“We had a phenomenal amount of construction during that time,” Mr. Goehringer said. There was also a lot of site maintenance, he said, and he and other commissioners were inspecting district sites and communicating with one another constantly via cell phone.

Because the commissioners were hands-on with that project, making it unnecessary to hire a general project manager, taxpayers saved a lot of money, Mr. Goehringer said.

The building, originally meant to provide equipment storage space on the west side and meeting and office space on the east side, came in only a little above the $308,000 budget, he said, crediting their project management. The overruns occurred because the budget was established before the commissioners had won full site plan approval for the project from Southold Town’s Planning Board, he said.

Mr. Goehringer criticized the current effort to add kitchen facilities at the building, saying the reason he and his fellow commissioners removed that option was because of the high cost of a required fire suppression system.

Cost overruns amounted to between $12,000, according to Mr. Goehringer, or $92,000, according to Mr. Deegan.

The cost was “close to $400,000 for a building that the community couldn’t use” because of an inadequate septic system “that needed to be rectified,” Mr. Deegan said. The installation of a new septic system and other changes are almost complete. Former commissioners say they did not upgrade the septic system because they never intended the building to serve as a kind of community center; they intended it primarily for equipment storage and meeting and office space. Having lost to Charles Zaloom in his bid last November to return as a commissioner after a year’s absence, Mr. Goehringer said he intends to run again at the next election. That would pit him against Mr. Deegan, whose term expires at the end of this year.

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