BEGWS criticisms ‘not surprising’

Mary Perham
Matthew Hunter

A recent independent audit shows Bath Electric Gas and Water Systems has significant work ahead on its internal controls and policies.

The audit, by Bonadio & Co., highlighted “deficiencies in internal control” at the village-owned utility including handling cash receipts, credit card use and payroll procedures.

Collateral monitoring, asset disposition and investment policies also must be put in place, according to the audit.

Criticism of the utility surprised no one, including BEGWS Executive Director Matthew Hunter, who took over the reins of the beleaguered utility in early September.

“I was already aware of the issues,” Hunter said. “We’re going to meet, set up a schedule and fix them.”

Key issues include assigning different elements of cash transactions and payroll procedures at BEGWS to more than one person to ensure checks and balances. The report also noted there is no policy for credit card usage, and that approval is generally given after the credit card is used.  

Several of the issues – including the internal deficiencies – already had been raised in a scathing report of the village and the utility by the state Comptroller Office in December 2009. The state report cited overpayments, conflicts of interest and mismanagement at the utility.

After the comptroller’s audit, the village board set up a new commission to oversee the utility. The commission was sworn in December 2011, a month after then-utility head Matt Benesh’s surprise resignation.

Bonadio’s report also reported the utility and the village needs to track their collateral on a regular basis and review post-retirement health benefits.

The report also recommended the village board and management become more educated on complying with funding source requirements, and put in place a system to track and document transactions.

The village also needs to receive a formal accounting of the Bath Volunteer Fire Department’s finances, the Bonadio report said.

“It was a very thorough report,” Mayor John Stranges said. “We were very pleased to have them with us.”

Stranges said a monthly report of where the village stands in terms of the budget is important.

“I’ve always said that should be a priority all the way through the year,” he said. “We need to be aware of finances at all times, and not have it be a knee jerk time at budget time. And the department heads are monitoring themselves.”