Orange finance team making headway
ORANGE — Gabriele Voelker has been in the town treasurer’s seat for the past month, filling the holes on the financial team that have created a host of problems for town departments and boards over the past year.
Voelker told selectmen recently that she and other team members are trying to reconcile the books that haven’t been balanced for the better part of the past year.
Prolonged vacancies on the financial team have gummed up the books in Town Hall, slowing and even halting the processing of payments and receipts, the generation of accurate financial reports and the transfer of money between accounts.
Town Administrator Diana Schindler said the financial process nearly grinds to a halt when one of the key members of the financial team is absent as records need to be reconciled between the collector, the treasurer and accountant. According to Schindler, upgrades to accounting software and the town’s ongoing technology problems further complicated the generation of accurate reports.
Over the past year, these issues impacted a variety of town departments, committees and boards.
At a board meeting this fall, Water Superintendent Michael Heidorn told selectmen he hasn’t received critical financial reports for nearly a year.
“Every month, we used to get very basic expense and revenue statements that gave us some level of confidence about where we were at … but that all stopped last fall when the accountant left,” he said in an interview after the meeting.
Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Reinig asked Heidorn if he didn’t have that information available in his office.
“We know how much we are billing people, but the payments are collected and processed at Town Hall. We absolutely need that information,” he said.
Heidorn and the water commissioners exchanged a flurry of emails with selectmen and Town Administrator Diana Schindler this summer about the lack of reports coming from Town Hall, including monthly water enterprise account bank statements, revenue and expense budget summaries.
“We begged for financial information last spring because town meeting was coming up and we needed to put our budget together,” said Heidorn. After pressing for financial information, Heidorn said he received a report several weeks before town meeting. “I appreciate the fact they made the effort, but it was just really hard.”
In addition to not having information available, the water department’s account was seriously depleted this summer as a result of $289,000 of water collections not being transferred from the town’s account into the water department account.
Schindler said the transfer was delayed because of a lack of monthly reconciliation between the treasurer and the accountant.
Town boards and committees have also felt the pain of recent staff vacancies.
Finance Committee members complained frequently during the budget season this spring about the sluggish pace of departmental budget requests.
Schindler said, “It was all I could do to pull together numbers and give them what they had ... I didn’t want to give them bad numbers.”
Last month, Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith said the committee hasn’t been able to meet “because we can’t get accurate information from Town Hall.” She said the accountant told her the books haven’t been fully reconciled since February. She added the committee hasn’t received a monthly financial report since May.
Schindler said creating accurate financial reports is even more challenging as the town shifts to a new accounting program. “We have all the information on the books, but we can’t generate comprehensive reports because we’re straddling two systems.” Currently, bills are being paid through the old system while receipts are recorded in the new one.
Planning Board member Pat Smith said the Planning Board has also been hampered by the lack of reports. Developers and businesses applying to the planning board must pay for services of a consultant to assess environmental impacts.
The town is in the middle of this transaction, as applicants pay the town and the town then pays the consultant. Smith said board members have had difficulty getting reports that allow them to see these revenues and payments.
“I am delighted to see the board hire a new treasurer,” she said after the meeting in which selectmen approved the offer letter to Voelker. “We really need someone qualified in that position.”