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03/15/16 2:03pm

Greenport voters will likely be asked to pierce the state property tax cap this year as school administrators plan for what is expected to be among the largest tax levy percentage increases of any Long Island district, according to data recently filed with New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.

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05/11/15 4:02pm
05/11/2015 4:02 PM
State comptroller Tom DiNapoli. (Credit. Flickr/nycomptroller)

State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. (Credit. Flickr/nycomptroller)

A high profile $211 million local business and tourism advertising campaign championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo lacks the performance measures needed to determine if the spending has been a wise decision, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. (more…)

07/23/14 7:00am
07/23/2014 7:00 AM
Kimogener Point on the Bay off New Suffolk Avenue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Kimogener Point on the Bay off New Suffolk Avenue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The only Long Islander running statewide on a major party ticket this year, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, was on the East End last week.

It was an unusual political happening since he was introduced by the top Republican officeholder in Suffolk County government, Joseph Sawicki, and because of the different constituencies involved in the event.  (more…)

01/22/14 4:00pm
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold superintendent David Gamberg.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold superintendent David Gamberg called a state report unfair.

Southold School District administrators are questioning the fairness of a state report that classifies the district as “susceptible to fiscal stress.”

In the report released last week by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Southold is listed as one of 87 school districts designated as fiscally stressed under Mr. DiNapoli’s new Fiscal Stress Monitoring System. The report evaluated 674 school districts during the 2013 fiscal year and found nearly 13 percent of them are struggling with their budgets. The report classified 12 school districts as being in “significant fiscal stress,” the most severe category, 23 in “moderate fiscal stress” and 52 as “susceptible to fiscal stress.” A fourth category is “no designation.”

In a statement, Mr. DiNapoli acknowledged that some factors are out of local districts’ hands, such as reductions in state aid, a cap on local tax revenue and decreases in reserves. Nonetheless, the report indicates the importance of recognizing the fiscal areas where districts may be in danger, and the comptroller’s office is using a new point system to classify the financial health of districts.

Southold was deemed “susceptible to fiscal stress,” the third lowest, or least, serious of the four classifications on the scale.

It was the only local district named in the report to be at risk for fiscal distress.

Mr. DiNapoli’s spokesman, Brian Butry, said this is the first year the report has been done and it didn’t evaluate the specific actions that caused the spikes in financial irregularities that indicated a district may be experiencing fiscal stress. In Southold’s case, Mr. Butry said the district received the “susceptible to fiscal stress” score based on the combination of its operating deficit and short-term debt.

In a meeting with The Suffolk Times on Tuesday, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, Stephen Harrison, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, and Christopher Reino, of Cullen & Danowski in Port Jefferson Station, the district’s audit consultant, all said they understand the state’s reasons for issuing such a report — but they called its findings unfair.

Mr. Reino, whose firm represents nearly 80 New York school districts, said Suffolk County schools had an automatic hit under the short-term debt component of the comptroller’s scoring. This is because those schools issue Tax Anticipation Notes in September since they don’t receive tax revenue until January.

Nassau County schools don’t experience that problem because taxes there are received at the beginning of the school year, he said.

The most significant contribution to the low fiscal score in Southold’s case was triggered by the district’s using about $2.4 million from the voter-approved capital improvement reserve fund for roof, cafeteria and classroom improvements. Mr. Harrison said the mechanism to get those monies out of the reserve fund and into the capital fund triggered the fiscal stress score because monies from the capital reserve fund had to flow through the district’s general fund.

“They are taking into account that transfer as an expense but not including the funding source that supports that transfer,” Mr. Harrison said, adding the district would have been found to be in perfect health if the reserve transfer hadn’t been counted.

The report comes about five months after Mr. DiNapoli released a favorable report on a recent audit of Southold’s financial procedures that showed a significant improvement compared to the last report issued in 2006.

“We appreciate the state’s effort to provide us with tools and information that allow us to use some long-range forecasting,” Mr. Gamberg said. “Having said that, we want to be very clear to our taxpayers in Southold that, given the review of this finding, we are very comfortable and confident that we are not — in any way — under fiscal stress based upon the state’s definition of that, in my opinion.”

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08/29/13 2:30pm

Southold BOE meeting preview, March 13, 2013

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a favorable report Wednesday on a recent audit of the Southold School District’s financial procedures, which shows a significant improvement compared to the last report completed in 2006.

The new 12-page report reviewed purchase orders the school district made between July 1, 2011 to April 30, 2013 and found it had established “adequate controls over claims processing.” The report also found the school district “generally conducts a thorough and deliberate audit of each claim before the school board authorizes payment.”

The state selected a sample size to review out of the district’s 4,072 claims totaling nearly $24.5 million in payments made during the 16-month time period.

Although the state audit found the district has, overall, processed its claims properly, the report also found that the district had processed some orders prior to having a purchase order in place.

Of the 25 claims totaling about $145,600 state auditors selected to examine, it found nearly $33,500 issued in six claims were “prepared after the invoice was received from the vendor.” The process is called “confirming purchase orders” and should be limited to emergency situations, according to the state.

The lone specific example listed in the report explains how the school district “paid a vendor $3,025 on Oct. 13, 2011 for an advertisement in a newspaper.”

“The vendor’s invoice was dated Aug. 25, 2011 and the purchase order was dated Sept. 2, 2011,” according to the audit.

Although the report concludes the confirming purchases “appeared to be reasonable and legitimate,” it asked that the district prepare and approve all of its purchase orders (except in emergency situations) before it issues any future payments.

Southold school board president Paulette Ofrias said in an Aug. 14 letter addressed to the state comptroller’s office that although the district agrees that six of the 25 claims were confirming purchase orders, the school district doesn’t believe the rate of confirming purchase orders observed in the sample size is “indicative of the total population of claims processed.”

The district is expected to provide the state with a corrective action plan within 90 days, according to the report.

The state’s recent report is very different to the last audit completed in 2006.

In that report, the state found the district had been overstating its financial position for “at least six years,” and went over budget during the 2004-05 school year by about $746,000. It also found errors in how the district paid portions of a 1996 capital improvement project through the general fund and failed to follow its own policy to publicly advertise for contract bids on purchases, services and repairs.

Southold School District assistant superintendent for business Stephen Harrison, who was hired about a year after the state issued the 2006 audit, said he attributes the improvement between the two reports to the work his staff and members of the district have done over the years.

Mr. Harrison said the district came up with a corrective plan focusing on the budget planning process and found more efficient ways to organize the school’s finances.

Although Mr. Harrison said he was pleased with the state’s recent report, he said he’ll be working toward “tightening the process up.”

“It’s correctable,” he said about the state’s findings. “We always look at this as a learning experience.”

Scroll down to read the recent report.

State audit of Southold School District’s claims processing, 2013