CANTON — After reviewing records from a span of three years, receiving feedback from the town board and responding to that feedback, the Office of the New York State Comptroller has completed its audit of the Town of Canton’s Compensation and Benefits and released its report last week.
Town supervisor Mary Ann Ashley, who took office on Jan. 1, 2018, handed a physical copy of the completed audit to town clerk Lisa Hammond at the town board meeting Wednesday evening. The audit is available on the comptroller’s website, but Ms. Ashley also wanted the document to be available to the public through the clerk’s office.
Responding to a formal request from the town board made in July 2017, the Comptroller’s Office sent two auditors to Canton in September 2017, after questions surfaced in June of that year about how salary money came to be split between former town supervisor David T. Button and his wife, Ann Denice Button, who had served as the town’s bookkeeper for the 16 years prior.
The audit covered financial records from 2015 to 2017, particularly focusing on Mr. Button’s paychecks.
As previously reported by the Times, in June 2017, the board became aware that Mr. Button had been collecting separate paychecks since April 2015 — one for his town supervisor role, one for assistant bookkeeper duties he said he’d taken over from his wife, and a third for additional bookkeeper duties for a brief time at the end of 2015. In total, the salaries received by Mr. Button exceeded the advertised salary for the supervisor position by $18,334 in 2015, $36,657 in 2016, and $18,803 in 2017.
Board members learned in 2017 that Mrs. Button had officially retired and had been collecting state retirement payments since March 2015, even though she was still working full-time hours in the supervisor’s office through 2017.
At the time, Mr. Button said he had been given permission by the town board to transfer money from Mrs. Button’s salary into his salary, though no written record existed to support that claim.
With the re-allocation of salaries, Mr. Button had collected additional paychecks for bookkeeping duties — from which his wife was technically retired — totaling $73,794 from April 2015 through August 2017, without permission from the board. In August 2017, Mr. Button reimbursed the town that sum, and the town then paid $58,858 to Mrs. Button for work she completed during the 2015-to-2017 period.
Town officials have not disputed the secretarial contributions of Mrs. Button to the supervisor’s office following her retirement as bookkeeper. However, the audit indicates Mrs. Button stopped maintaining a time sheet after March 31, 2015, so the $58,858 in compensation was based on a $30,000 annual salary for the position.
A handwritten note dated Dec. 1, 2014, and filed in Mrs. Button’s personnel file was the only documentation of her post-retirement work plan, according to the Comptroller’s Office report. The note was addressed to the town and stated Mrs. Button planned to retire by the end of 2014 or sometime in 2015, and continue to work in the supervisor’s office “as much as possible, as needed.”
During the course of the audit, Mr. Button told auditors he believed the town had a past practice of allowing the supervisor to “staff the office as he sees fit” and allocate salaries within the office as long as salaries do not exceed the amount the board had budgeted each year for the supervisor’s personnel services.
The audit also revealed the town clerk and highway superintendent were paid more than their publicly advertised salaries in 2017, totaling $2,750, and the board failed to authorize salaries paid to eight officers in 2016: code enforcement officer, court clerk, deputy town clerk, town attorney, historian, records manager, town clerk’s tax collector compensation and the town clerk’s registrar of vital statistics compensation. Those unauthorized salaries for 2016 totaled $145,671.
“While no clear separation of duties for internal control purposes were implemented, town officials did implement some checks and balances to provide oversight of the payroll process,” the audit report states, citing the regular review of computerized payroll materials by an unidentified board member, the board performing an annual audit of the supervisor’s 2016 records, including payroll. “Although these oversight procedures were in place, they were ineffective because a board resolution was not adopted to set the salaries and wages paid to certain officers and employees. As a result, it was difficult for officials to determine the accuracy of gross pay amounts as part of the payroll review process.”
Based on the Comptroller’s Office findings, the audit report makes 15 recommendations for the town, most of which involve adopting policies to ensure financial, salary and payroll documentation is properly filed, budgeted and reviewed. The town’s implementation plans for two of those recommendations are expected to begin this year.
The town plans to hire a part-time employee, which it budgeted for 2020, to assist with human resources duties, according to the town’s responses within the audit. This year, the town also plans to re-write and adopt a non-contractual policy outlining health insurance benefits provided by the town.
Ms. Ashley was not available for comment at the time of this report.
The full report can be viewed on the state Comptroller’s website.