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Comptroller audit cites Brasher officials for casino compact money bookkeeping

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BRASHER FALLS - Auditors from the state Comptroller’s Office are recommending that Brasher officials include any future casino gaming compact funds as a line item in their regular budget, and they suggested that money should be spent sooner than it had been in the past by town officials.

But Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said he doesn’t want to prepare a budget with money that may not come to the town, and his spending time line was what was he was told to do.

Auditors had four recommendations to town officials following a review of their spending of casino compact money. The audit covered Jan. 1, 2010 through April 30, 2012, according to the report, which was released Wednesday. Auditors noted that from May 2007 to February 2012 the town received more than $1.7 million of casino compact revenue.

“The Board should ensure that all moneys expended are in accordance with the related spending plans and that all expenditures are authorized and adequately supported. The Board should also authorize claims for expenditures prior to disbursement. Town officials should ensure that records are maintained to identify compact revenues, disbursements related to the spending plans, and planned use of remaining moneys in comparison to spending plans. Officials should also monitor the status of spending plans and approved uses of casino compact revenues,” auditors said in their report.

In their narrative, they noted, “The town’s bookkeepers maintained ledgers in 2010 and 2012 for the expenditure of casino compact revenues received, and the Clerk maintained a ledger as well for 2010 and 2011. Although the Clerk’s ledgers indicated intended uses, none of the records completely identified revenues received by spending plan, disbursements and uses by spending plan, or planned uses for unexpended balances.”

For instance, they said, “If moneys expended in 2010 were for uses in the approved spending plan for the 2008 compact revenue received, there was no indication of this in the records. Therefore, the records would not allow officials to easily compare disbursements with the respective spending plans and identify the proposed use of any remaining funds.”

Their recommendation was that the supervisor “ensure that records for casino compact moneys identify revenues received by spending plan, disbursements and uses against the respective spending plans, and the proposed purpose of any remaining funds.”

Mr. Dawson said that he accounted for the funding, but it wasn’t part of his budget. Instead, he had broken down and categorized the spending separately, including funding for areas such as tourism and the town’s revolving loan fund.

“I did not have the casino funds as part of my budget. It was listed on a separate page and stapled to the budget,” he said.

“I talked to Roseanne Murphy (Empire State Development north country regional director) when Gov. Cuomo was in Potsdam this spring. I had heard St. Lawrence County put (the casino gaming compact money) in their budget and didn’t get it. She said, ‘Jim, you did the smart thing.’ If I put that as a regular part of my budget. we have to make up the shortfall,” Mr. Dawson said.

“The auditor has a different viewpoint. There are certain parameters that they go by,” he said. “I did have it in my budget, but not as a line item. As long as I’m supervisor, I’m not going to put that as part my regular budget. To me that’s extra money that’s a gift to us. It’s like manna from heaven. It allows us to do what we never would be able do with the tax base.”

Auditors also suggested town officials spend their funding more quickly, but Mr. Dawson said that goes against what he had been told by James P. Fayle, former Empire State Development north country regional director.

“He said stop trying to pigeonhole these things. It may take two or three years to finish projects. That’s what I did. I think one of the criticisms in the audit is that monies received in 09 were not spent until 12. I was just doing what I was told. That covers several remarks that were made in the audit,” he said.

Auditors also recommended that the town board members formally authorize all Empire State Development-approved spending plans, and that they make sure all of the expenditures of casino compact moneys are “authorized and adequately supported.”

They also suggested that board members monitor the status of spending plans and uses on a regular basis.

Among their findings, they said, was the discovery of one disbursement of $36,358 for the purchase of land in October 2010, which was made without prior board authorization.

Mr. Dawson said that stemmed from their purchase of land from Leon Dishaw, Helena, on County Route 53, Helena, for the new town garage.

“When we appropriated some money, which was approved by Empire State Development for the town garage, I put aside $600,000. That was approved by Empire State Development,” he said.

“We had ourselves a sit-down before we bought the land from Mr. Dishaw. Mr. Demo (Deputy Town Supervisor William D. Demo) and Mr. Dishaw were here, and we negotiated a price. I got a letter from his attorney saying please deposit the amount of money we owed either by wire or by certified check. I took myself up to the bank and got a certified check and sent it in,” Mr. Dawson said.

That meeting was held after he had talked with board members for several months about the plans, he said, although there had been no formal resolution that allowed them to negotiate with the landowner.

“There was never a formal resolution to buy the land. We all talked about it, we all agreed with it. I was wrong in that I didn’t get a regular board resolution to buy it. That has been rectified. It was an oversight on my part,” Mr. Dawson said.

He said he was also criticized by the auditors for giving the Tri-Town Rescue Squad $10,000 above their contract. Instead, auditors said, it should have been done by a contract. But it was done in the interest of saving the taxpayers money, according to the town supervisor.

“We also found multiple disbursements totaling $28,322 were authorized by the Board for payment, but lacked an invoice, contract, or receipt as support for the voucher and/or payment,” auditors said.

Among the disbursements was $13,000 paid to FISHCAP, the St. Lawrence County fishing initiative, and $11,806 in costs associated with Tri-Town festivals.

“Another $10,000 was authorized for payment to a local rescue squad, but the disbursement exceeded the annual contracted amount for services totaling $27,543 and there was no other support provided for the payment,” auditors noted.

“What we have been doing is giving the fire departments and rescue squads $10,000 apiece. That was in my spending plan above and beyond their contract. I told them all, ‘We’ll share it with you for emergency equipment you can buy.’ The rescue squad has a contract with the town of Brasher for $28,000 and some change. I’m not going to put $38,000 down for the contract because next year we might not get casino expect money, and they might expect the same amount of money,” Mr. Dawson said.

When designating $10,000 for the organizations, he said he asked them to hold their contract price, which they agreed to do.

“Their contract moneys are raised through local taxes. If I can keep the contract prices at the same rate by giving money from the casino funding, I can save taxpayers money and that’s why I do it that way,” he said.

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