The town of Worcester did not audit claims prior to payment, a recent state Comptroller’s audit announced.

Auditors looked at town records from Jan. 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022 to see if the town board “effectively audited claims prior to payment,” and found that it did not, the audit said. “As a result, disbursements were made for unsupported and/or improper claims and not in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

Auditors selected 199 disbursements totaling $824,330 out of the 778 disbursements totaling approximately $2 million paid during the audit period to see if the town board effectively audited the claims before approving them, the audit said. Of the 199 claims audited and approved by the board, 166 claims, totaling $601,662 should not have been approved as presented because they didn’t comply with the town’s procurement policy, lacked supporting documents or were an improper charge.

The audit said 131 claims for 36 purchases totaling $597,410 were approved without evidence of compliance with competitive bidding requirements or the town’s procurement policy; 11 claims totaling $4,009 did not have appropriate support, such as an itemized receipt or invoice and 23 claims had sales tax totaling $243. According to the audit, some of the items purchased without seeking competitive bids were diesel fuel, paving equipment and supplies, tractor and stone.

The audit said the town hasn’t updated its procurement policy since before 2007, but the policy requires the town to follow it for purchasing goods and services not subject to competitive bidding. The audit said the town could not provide documentation it sought competition for 28 purchases totaling $212,640. Some of these purchases were for insurance, fuel, electric and pool repairs.

According to the audit, the town supervisor said he was not aware the town needed to update its procurement policy yearly. It said the town highway superintendent said he received bids, but was unaware he needed to submit those to the town board with his department’s claims.

In addition, the town approved 36 claims totaling $4,273 that were not supported and/or improper, the audit said. The town said the funds paid for a new bookkeeper to get training and for software subscriptions. After the audit, the supervisor “contacted the financial software company and was informed that the two payments were for another town’s subscription that the former bookkeeper erroneously paid,” the audit said. “The Supervisor told us they did not question the former bookkeeper’s reimbursements for annual software subscriptions, which happened two years in a row.”

Auditors gave the several recommendations including getting reimbursement from the town or software company for the improper payment; conduct thorough audits of claims, annually review the town’s procurement policy and ensure town personnel know what the policy is, ensure sales tax is not paid and ensure the town complies with the competitive bidding process.

Town Supervisor Jeffery Wilcox responded to the audit by letter on Jan. 15. In it he said the town was reimbursed by the software company for $1,013.96 because the town received a new account with the new bookkeeper, but the old account wasn’t closed and was paid. “The Town acknowledges that this should have been reviewed better and the claim for the old account should have been declined.”

The letter said once the town was made aware of the need to update its procurement policy, it did so. It also said several purchases by the highway department were through state or county bids, but were not documented.

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