Letter: Charlestown, we have a (budgetary) problem | Letters to the Editor
Most of us of a certain age remember the phrase, “Houston, we’ve got a problem,” when our country nearly lost Apollo 13 and three astronauts en route to the moon. Now, it’s important for the taxpayers of Charlestown to know that we have a problem too. While less catastrophic or deadly than Apollo 13, hearing city listeners report that the city somehow has $3 million less cash to spend than we thought we had the day before is very disturbing indeed, a amount equal to about 10% of our overall budget.
Our first impulse is to ask, “Who was responsible?” There had to be someone who was in charge. The Budget Committee raised the issue at its January 14 meeting where it called in the city’s external auditors to explain how it happened.
Auditors said they did not properly record the city’s use of $3 million of its unrestricted fund balance (surplus) in the city’s fiscal year 2020 financial statements. This admission of serious error led a budget commissioner at their January 18 meeting to say that, if it were up to him, they would be fired, not just because they made a mistake, but because they should have caught her.
Listeners were eager to share the blame, however. They told the commission that city staff had not provided them with accurate and complete financial statements for verification, as required.
If this is true, the auditors are right because they are prohibited from preparing the city’s financial statements and then auditing them. It would be a conflict of interest. However, this does not excuse auditors from uncovering the $3 million error using other audit techniques such as reviewing backup, city council minutes, and other factors. that enter into budgetary decision-making.
However, it demonstrates that there is much more to understanding about what happened, how it happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again, than just declaring the matter closed and moving on. thing. It’s a learning opportunity that Charlestown literally cannot afford to lose.
This $3 million had been missing for two years. The treasurer’s office, the city administrator, and the budget committee all ignored him for two years. They all should have known this a year ago, and I say this as both a former CFO and CPA. How did these city employees and officials all miss this?
At the Jan. 18 meeting, the Budget Committee asked City Administrator Mark Stankiewicz to come up with a plan to look back over the past five years to see if there were any other mistakes and failures in the budget. ‘audit. So BC has now ordered the city to investigate the auditor’s performance over the past five years for other possible instances of audit failures.
Why doesn’t the Commission offer an external, independent review, rather than asking city staff to investigate issues where they might be part of the problem?
Budget Commissioner Richard Sartor made it clear at both meetings that he didn’t want the $3 million surprise to damage Charlestown’s reputation.
But at the end of the day, the taxpayers of Charlestown need and deserve the truth more than platitudes.