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Accounting Errors Prompt Westhampton Beach Village To Hire Attorney To Review Finances

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Erin McKinley   Oct 11, 2012 4:38 PM
Oct 17, 2012 2:00 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board of Trustees has hired an outside attorney to review the village’s financial books after discovering a clerical error that led to its full-time employees being overpaid by about $22,000.

Mayor Conrad Teller, who opposed hiring the special counsel at a meeting on Wednesday, October 10, said the following day that the action was sparked by an accounting error in which the village forgot to take into account leap year and overpaid its employees by one day.

The mayor said the mistake, made by Village Clerk Rebecca Molinaro, resulted in all 34 full-time village employees, including himself, being overpaid by approximately $22,000 in total. Mr. Teller said those employees have been notified that the village will withhold the amount they were overpaid this coming year.

“Accounting errors have happened a few times in the history of the village,” said Mr. Teller, stating that the resolution specifically targets Ms. Molinaro. “It is not a horrendous thing—it just happens.”

Mr. Teller was the sole dissenter in a resolution introduced by Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker, which was approved, 4-1. He noted that Mr. Tucker announced his intention to submit the resolution following the board’s last executive session on October 4.

The resolution states that the trustees were concerned “that there may have been certain discrepancies” with village finances “including but not limited to payroll and expenditures …” As a result, they agreed to hire attorney and former Bellport Village Clerk Scott B. Augustine at a rate of $175 an hour, for up to $5,000, to investigate financial transactions over the past year.

Mr. Tucker became visibly angry at times during Wednesday night’s meeting when two village residents—village blogger Dean Speir, who had two unsuccessful bids for trustee in 2007 and 2011, and Victor Levy, chairman of the Village Planning Board—asked several questions of the board, including what led to the need for an outside entity to review the village’s books when its annual audit was set to begin this week. That audit will be completed by Satty, Levine and Ciacco CPA of Jericho, Mr. Teller said.

“The resolution speaks for itself,” Mr. Tucker said during the meeting, 
declining to offer an explanation.

This week, Mr. Tucker said the decision to hire an outside counsel is completely separate from the audit. Although the attorney may request to see some of the information from the audit, the intent is to have an in-depth analysis of the village finances and looking for potential legal issues.

Though he declined to talk about what prompted his request, Mr. Tucker said he was not conducting a “witch hunt” and that the pending evaluation will be a comprehensive look at all of the village’s finances.

“We are doing exactly what taxpayers elected us to do,” Mr. Tucker said. “We are looking out for taxpayer money and that it is spent properly, so we brought in an outside person to review and investigate for the board.”

This week, Mr. Tucker added that if the trustees had a political motive to remove Ms. Molinaro from office, they never would have voted to reappoint her in July during the annual village reorganization meeting.

“There were certainly opportunities at the village reorganization meeting where we could have taken action,” he said. “We would have no reason to wait until now.”

The mayor later added that if accounting errors were made, it is up to all of the trustees, and not just the village clerk, to identify them. He also said the 
attorney would have to find deliberate financial errors in 
order for the board to take disciplinary action against Ms. Molinaro.

“There would have to be gross negligence and deliberate malfeasance on her part to trigger anything,” Mr. Teller said. “I am here every day and I have not seen anything.”

“The trustees have a job to do,” Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto said this week. “That job is to monitor village property and finances—we want to assure people that their tax dollars are properly being spent.”

This week, Trustee Ralph Urban said he thinks proceeding with the outside attorney is the best option for the village at this time because not all five trustees agree on the decision.

“I can agree that not everybody agrees totally,” he said. “That always makes things a little more difficult and tense—we agreed to proceed this way, and that was the best thing for everyone at this point.”

Ms. Molinaro said last week that the payroll problem is common among municipalities because the fiscal year does not coincide with the calendar year.

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much ado about nothing I suspect, Hank .. You are a boob !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Oct 11, 12 6:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
Just keeping abreast of the situation?
By PBR (4303), Southampton on Oct 11, 12 6:54 PM
Much ado about nothing? $22,000 grew legs and walked out the door and you blame the trustees for doing their job? Who was minding the store?
By Mrs. Boardwatcher (2), Southampton on Oct 12, 12 2:16 PM
They pick on the little things to put on a show....how about all the waste from lawsuits brought on by village actions.
By NEWLONDON (15), westhampton beach on Oct 11, 12 7:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
How much money needs to go missing until you consider it a big thing? If the bookkeeper didn't accurately keep the books over the last 15 months what is she getting paid to do?
By Ross G (1), Westhampton Beach on Oct 12, 12 4:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
spending $5000 to investigate a mistake that was already corrected-way to go Hank
By EastEnd68 (811), Westhampton on Oct 12, 12 4:58 AM
This is EastEnd68's last comment. I so miss them. Where did they go? Sigh.
By Speonk Shores (31), Remsenburg on Jun 27, 13 6:56 PM
Is this all the Village board has to do, chase non problems. Any body with a half a brain knows when employees are paid bi-weekly these things happen leap year is one of the causes. It was corrected, lets get on with Village business.
By westendoftown (18), Speonk on Oct 12, 12 7:45 AM
No, my guess is it is possible not to overpay municipal employees ten of thousands of taxpayer dollars. And now tens of thousands of dollars is a "non-problem"?
By Mrs. Boardwatcher (2), Southampton on Oct 12, 12 2:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
Hiring a Bellport attorney to audit the auditors? Spending 5000 dollars of taxpayers money to audit auditors before the independent audit is completed? Hello Westhampton Beach, the lights are on but nobody appears to be home! On the other hand isn't this the same group that wanted to investigate the Suffolk County Internal Affairs Investigators who were investigating a police incident..., oh no that was Joan Levan, she is not there anymore. I guess this stuff only makes sence in WHB!
By Sug Tonmi (24), southampton on Oct 12, 12 7:57 AM
1 member liked this comment
They should throw the Police Chief in on that investigation of being overpaid - or at least the person(s) who approved his contract. I'll bet the Chief laughs all the way to the bank each payday.
By realistic (244), westhampton on Oct 12, 12 7:57 AM
Who elected these boobs.
By westendoftown (18), Speonk on Oct 12, 12 8:06 AM
You've got to be kidding me...Tucker is going to spend more on lawyers than the error itself - and the error will be easily corrected even without the lawyers! STOP with the lawyers!!! It was an error. That's what audits are for. Hiring a lawyer to look into an error already found? Come on...get a life Tucker. Make yourself useful and get the corner of Montauk Highway and Old Riverhead Road fixed up. It's the gateway to your Village and it looks like the gateway to the ghetto.
By getalife (38), Southampton on Oct 12, 12 12:09 PM
Congratulation to the Trustees for calling for an independent investigation of certain financial discrepancies. Already, Mayor Teller has disclosed that the Village employees have been overpaid $22,000 in the past 15 months. Didn’t the Village lay-off 3 employees to reduce expenses by $30,000 inorder for the budget to comply with the state mandated 2% tax levy limit. Now, he expects us to swallow that a misallocation of $22,000.00 of taxpayer’s $$$ is a “simple accounting error” ...more
By beachgirl11978 (18), Westhampton Beach on Oct 13, 12 9:50 AM
2 members liked this comment
Beachgirl, don’t be so agitated, we are all just trying to make some sense of this story. The Mayor said in the story that the resolution targets Ms. Molinaro, yet you say that she was just hired in July which means this issue must involve the past Village Clerk? The trustees are hiring an attorney to oversee an independent accounting firm, yet the trustee who sponsored the resolution said on the Patch article that overpayments are not uncommon? I have several friends who are employees ...more
By Sug Tonmi (24), southampton on Oct 13, 12 12:08 PM
Beach girl. As a taxpayer of this village I support your statement and Hank. At least someone has the guts to standup to the old cronies of this Village and their "one hand washes the other" way of doing business.
By realistic (244), westhampton on Oct 13, 12 4:00 PM
Funny i went to post a comment the other day and it never hit. Not that it was posted and removed, it just never happened. In short, there is something seriously wrong if your first reaction is to hire an attorney who was once a Village clerk. The normal protocol is to go to your own accounting firm if there are posting problems. If the accounting firm is the problem, get a second accounting firm opinion. To go legal means you are either lying about the situation or are incompetent, in both ...more
By Hambone (374), New York on Oct 13, 12 11:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
15 months - that says the village's outside accounts didn't catch this.

15 months - that says it was done properly before that, who changed the the way payments were made, and why?

Day in and day out the clerk is supposed to do this job; day in and day out the Mayor is supposed to check the bills; month in and month out the trustees are supposed to oversee the payments. That is the order of responsibility - Clerk, Mayor, trustees.

Notice the Mayor says the Clerk is okay, ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Oct 14, 12 9:05 AM
1 member liked this comment
You wonder if everyone was Underpaid for 15 months- oh wait this would have been corrected 14 months ago.
By bayarea (38), hampton bays on Oct 14, 12 10:14 AM
Do the math. Comes to less than $10 per week per person. Can do that with incorrect payroll deductions. You need to spend $5,000 on that?
By Sandflea (35), Southampton on Oct 15, 12 10:17 AM
Sounds like beachgirl is aware of the workings of the Village's budget. Could it be an ex clerk with an axe to grind?
By westendoftown (18), Speonk on Oct 15, 12 1:12 PM
I notice most of these comments are made by a small handful of people (westendoftown, Sug Tonmi, realistic) each posting multiple, often duplicative statements, offering endless criticisms of the trustee majority - it's nice to see the trustees showing the courage to stand tall before those few that seek to control the village government through bullying and intimidation.
By BillyBoyWHB (1), Westhampton Beach on Oct 16, 12 10:01 AM
If the error went on for 15 months then it must have been missed during the last audit. Perhaps someone actively covered it up, otherwise such a common error as claimed by Sug Tonmi would have been routinely caught. It is always the cover-up that gets you in trouble.
By WS (6), Westhampton Beach on Oct 16, 12 10:36 AM
Good grief folks, it was caught internally. Give it a rest, this is not Westhamptongate. Richard Blowes did the same thing at the town level years ago. Took 13 years to catch his mistake.
By Phadreus1340 (144), Southampton on Oct 16, 12 11:47 AM
Right on and move on, certain people are trying to make something out of nothing for some reason.
By westendoftown (18), Speonk on Oct 16, 12 5:06 PM
Teller yet throws another village employee under the bus. business as usual in WHB
By xtiego (283), bridgehampton on Oct 22, 12 5:42 PM
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