Missing Funds Prompts Audit Request In Carroll

CARROLL — Missing funds from a popular swim program in Carroll have prompted the town supervisor to request a state audit.

Supervisor Jack Jones said town officials noticed about a year ago that not all of the money collected by the swim program had been deposited into the bank. Hoping to trace the missing funds, the town hired a local certified public accountant through the group Honey and Associates to perform an “in-house audit” of the town’s finances for the 2015 and 2016 calendar years.

Jones said a review showed a portion of the money — possibly thousands of dollars, he said — collected through the swim program was not deposited in those two years. At a Carroll Town Board meeting Wednesday, Jones mentioned the missing money and his request for the state Comptroller’s Office to perform an audit.

“We did a basic audit ourselves and found that things were not matching up,” Jones told The Post-Journal on Thursday. “We hired a CPA and we found some peculiarities that we weren’t happy with.”

Problems first appeared last year when the board began looking into the cost of the swim program, which involves mostly swim lessons for dozens of children at Frewsburg High School. The town took over the swim program more than a decade ago from the school district.

The program on average costs the town about $16,000 annually for an administrator, swim instructor and lifeguards. Up until this year, registration money had been collected by a school staff member, who in turn would give it to the swim program’s part-time director.

The director then would give the money to the town clerk to be deposited.

The local audit, written by Kevin Honey, said due to the lack of receipts it was difficult to determine if deposits by the clerk labeled “swim program” were accurate. “There was a lack of any cash control over these funds,” Honey said in his report.

Laura Greenwood, who was town clerk for 12 years before leaving last year, was elected supervisor on Tuesday. Greenwood said she never saw any evidence of missing funds during her tenure, and said she looked forward to serving the town.

“Politically motivated rumors distract the positive progress of our town and tarnish its honorable reputation within the county,” she said in an interview. “I will always protect our residents and stand on the integrity and honesty that I have been elected for.”

Greenwood was highly critical of the town’s audit, in which Honey said clerk deposits were inconsistent from 2015-16 and that the clerk failed to provide monthly reports or provide consistent and accurate bank records.

“I welcome any review of any of the bookkeeping that I did while in office,” Greenwood said in response to the audit.

Board members noticed last year that the amount of money deposited was not the same Anna Gifford, the director at the time, had reported to them. According to transcripts of town board meetings, council members asked Gifford — who served as director from October 2007 to August 2013 and again from August 2015 to August of this year — to produce copies of participation records in an attempt to rectify the discrepancies.

Jones said the board was trying to determine how much the program was bringing in compared to its cost.

“We noticed that the money wasn’t matching up,” he said. “We’re not trying to point any fingers. We’re just trying to find out what’s going on.”

Councilwoman Patty Ekstrom reportedly asked the school earlier this year for records of the swim program but was told they had been cleaned out. In May, Gifford turned in registrations from April 2016 to April 2017, but said she didn’t have receipts for money turned into the clerk. In addition, Gifford reportedly told the board she had destroyed some of the records because she believed it wasn’t necessary to save them.

Attempts to reach Gifford for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

Things came to a head at a work session meeting Aug. 15 between the board and Gifford to discuss the swim program and its funding. According to the meeting’s transcript, Jones questioned Gifford on the discrepancies between her reported revenues and what the town received. Jones also mentioned that receipts from the town clerk had been taken as part of the in-house audit.

At that meeting, the board gave Gifford documentation she had requested detailing the swim program and its budget. At the same time she presented a proposal that sought to double the program’s budget to $32,000. That proposal included an increase to her salary and the salaries of the lifeguards.

Gifford told the board she had never been required to keep any records for the town in the past. According to the meeting’s transcript she also noted it was the first time she had asked for a raise in five years and felt that her integrity had been questioned.

Jones scheduled a special meeting a week later on Aug. 30, at which time Gifford was dismissed as the swim program director.

“She had been very disrespectful,” Jones said. “We were trying to work with her and figure things out. She told us she destroyed some documentation. We told her those were town documents.”

Nonetheless, Jones said he’s hopeful the comptroller’s audit will bring closure to the situation. He noted that the Clerk’s Office has not been audited in more than a decade.

“We’re not accusing anyone of anything,” he said. “We just want to get all the information.”