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Lewis, St. Lawrence fare relatively well in snowmobile fund audit

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A comptroller’s audit found several problems with the state snowmobile trail fund program, but Lewis and St. Lawrence counties went relatively unscathed.

“Many of the problems noted in the report did not affect Lewis County, with the exception of some groomer logs that did not contain documentation of the trails groomed and hours spent grooming,” said Gary R. Stinson, president of the Lewis County Area Snowmobile Association.

The report — based on a review of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation program that distributes roughly $5 million annually in snowmobile permit fees for trail services — noted that Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oneida, Herkimer and Oswego counties received payments over the past few years based in part on incomplete logs.

“Without this information, Parks cannot effectively determine if the expenses claimed are reasonable,” it stated.

Mr. Stinson said his association last year entered a three-year contract with Fleetmatics of Massachusetts to have GPS units in all Lewis County groomers.

“The information we receive from the Fleetmatics GPSes is amazing,” he said. “They record every movement of the groomers.”

Mr. Stinson said he hopes the trial program will encourage the state to mandate installation of similar units in all groomers statewide for more accurate and consistent reporting.

Groomer operators often record the route they have worked on, sometimes forgetting to write in the number of miles, said Debbie A. Christy, president of the St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association. Ms. Christy said she will remind groomers of the state’s requirement.

Although St. Lawrence County was dinged for the oversight, the audit specifically complimented the association’s formal agreement with its member clubs, referred to in the report as trail maintenance entities, or TMEs.

“The contract and grooming policies established between the St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association and the clubs maintaining trails in St. Lawrence County were notable for what they included: a tentative weekly grooming schedule for each piece of equipment and a process for reviewing maintenance logs to determine whether groomer operators completed tasks as expected and if major equipment repair would be necessary,” the report said. “Clear communication between sponsors and TMEs can enhance consistency in practices and boost public confidence that Parks is overseeing a well-run program.”

Ms. Christy said she was pleased documents developed over the years met state approval.

“That was nice,” she said. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Auditors saved their primary gripes for areas outside the tri-county region, although some are in Northern New York.

The audit report, released Wednesday, indicated the Herkimer County Snowmobile Association treasurer falsified documentation and, over the course of two years, improperly redirected $3,433 from another snowmobile club in that county to his own. That matter was referred to the Herkimer County district attorney’s office.

The report also noted the Franklin County Snowmobile Association’s practice of paying its trail groomer operators $79,885 for fiscal years 2009-10 and 2008-09 combined — with pay rates ranging from $12 per hour for regular operators to $15 per hour for the president and vice president — when other counties typically use unpaid volunteer operators.

“We question whether Franklin Association is providing the best value to snowmobilers through the use of program funds,” it said.

Auditors additionally determined eight local sponsors improperly used $48,397 from the program over three years to cover administrative costs, that some clubs elsewhere in the state were funded without reporting any grooming costs or submitting groomer logs and local officials throughout the state had “significant differences” in their understanding of Parks and Recreation requirements because the agency does not have established written policies.

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