GREAT VALLEY - The New York State Comptroller's Office has discovered tax-collection issues in one Cattaraugus County town.
According to findings issued in an audit report, Toni Evans, Great Valley Clerk, did not follow the proper procedure in property tax collection within the town. The report says Evans did not make deposits in a timely manner, nor did she submit reports to Dan Brown, town supervisor, in a timely fashion. The report further states that she was not timely, nor accurate, in returning duplicate payments, taking up to eight months to issue refunds, and even then, was out of cash on hand.
Issues revealed in the report indicate that Evans submitted taxes owed to Cattaraugus County that included a check that had been returned on insufficient funds. That $1,763 check was, therefore, not included in the unpaid list submitted to the county treasurer's office. The list is what county officials use to generate listings for potential property lots for the annual delinquent tax auction.
In a rebuttal letter to the State Comptroller's Office, Evans said the problem, though coming from her office, is a result of a new software system.
"Cattaraugus County implemented a new tax collection program in January 2013," Evans said in her rebuttal letter. "The non-availability of qualified personnel within the county during key collection times created undue hardships when I had questions specific to the tax collection program.
"After the end of the collection period, the County Treasurer's office informed me of errors contained in the settlement, which, I assume, occurred because of a data entry error on my part," she continued, "as the County Treasurer's Office did not claim responsibility, nor did they offer advice on how to avoid the problem in the future."
But that's not feasible, according to Kelly Reed, deputy county treasurer.
"We went with a newer system in January 2013 that is more user-friendly," she said. "We have been getting a lot of feedback from other towns, villages and school districts that are using the system that love how easy the system is."
Reed said the department does not have a shortage of staff available to offer help.
"Our department is made up if 12 people that are always ready and able to help," she said. "We have someone here, in the office, every day. As far as problems, if we find one, we research it and find out what happened with the billing. While I am not familiar with this issue, we will help in any way we can."
Reed said the biggest issue, when it comes to tax collection, is when July 31 hits and a bill is still outstanding. At that point, the owners are told that their property will be up for auction in the annual sale.
"They are very quick to tell us when they paid the bills and show us the receipts," Reed said. "We are able to go back from there, quite often, to find the solution to a problem."
According to generally accepted accounting practices, Evans was not properly depositing and reporting to Brown.
Over payments that were received at the end of January 2013, and deposited on Feb. 14, 2013, were not refunded until October, when sufficient funds were available in the account, after a payment that was erroneously credited back to property owners was repaid.
Of the 33 tax deposits that were made by the town clerk, totaling $1,056,028, 26 of them, totaling $923,528, were not made in a timely fashion, according to the audit report, averaging a late period of nine days. Those that were late were also missing paid dates on stubs and receipts, creating the risk of not all collections being recorded and deposited, the report says.
Report findings were not only tied to tax collections but also in licensing fees. Auditors found duplicate receipts for dog and marriage licenses, as well as registrar fees and hall rentals. Not all of the funds indicated were deposited.
"The Clerk did not deposit receipts intact," the report reads. "Generally, only $25 of the $75 fee and deposit for hall rentals was deposited in the Clerk's bank account. For example, if a $75 check was received in payment, the Clerk would deposit the check, but withhold $50 cash from other receipts."
If an insufficient amount of cash was received that month, she would withdraw cash from her Clerk bank account. The undeposited cash was apparently retained by the Clerk for payment to the individual after the rental was complete, without any documentation of the transaction. Deposits should be made intact and disbursements should be made by check to properly account for this activity."
All of these problems could have been caught, according to the report. Auditors point to the need for members of the Town Board to audit, or hire an outside firm, to take a look at the books, as well as the practices. According to a statement from Evans, those audits did not take place in 2012 or 2013.
Declining further comment on the report, Brown said, "What this amounts to is a need for the clerk to go to the bank more often and make more timely deposits. She is an elected official, so I am not her boss. That would be the taxpayers. We all go through the same audits, and ultimately, the town voters are her boss, not me."