Audit Seeks Answers to Milton Budget Mess

MILTON – “We do have some issues with our budget,” Supervisor Dan Lewza announced at Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.

He said he contacted the state comptroller’s office about a month and a half ago, and has followed its recommendations. The town has hired the EFPR accounting firm of Rochester to do an audit, which is supposed to be completed by the end of July.

Lewza’s comments were in part a response to a Wednesday Times Union news story, but the actual extent of the problem remains unclear. Lewza told the Times Union: “We were going over some of the budget with department heads and it wasn’t adding up. Then we had more and more issues including some payroll issues.”

Interviewed after the meeting, Lewza acknowledged it is likely the town has less money in its reserve fund balance than budgeted, but he said precise figures would have to wait until the audit is done. He also acknowledged that the “rounding issues” he cited at the meeting would not have created such a significant problem.

Councilwoman Barbara Kerr said after the meeting that there appears to be an error in the budget accounting. “It looks to me like a double entry,” she said.

Lewza spoke angrily to Kerr after the meeting, accusing her of lying about the amount of money previously transferred from the reserve account, which she denied.

Lewza is not running for re-election, and is backing the endorsed Republican candidate, Councilman Scott Ostrander, to succeed him as supervisor. Kerr is gathering signatures to run a primary campaign against Ostrander for the GOP nomination.

Lewza and Kerr served together last year on a three-person budget committee with then-Comptroller Julie Pratt. According to Jason Miller, deputy highway superintendent, he and Highway Superintendent David Forbes brought up problems that needed to be addressed after the preliminary budget was passed last year, but the budget committee and Town Board, influenced by Kerr and Pratt, declined to address them. Lewza declined to comment directly on Miller’s account, but did not dispute it.

Kerr said she had not wanted to discuss the issue at that time in executive session, in secret.

In early April, according to a Ballston Journal story, “… the board transferred $316,000 from the reserves to a Highway Department account, to plug a budget gap. David Forbes, the highway superintendent, said the gap in the tentative budget had been over $800,000. The town’s comptroller, Julie Pratt, resigned not long ago, and a new one, Darlene M. Allen, was hired Wednesday at a salary of $68,000. Lewza said Forbes’ department was not responsible for the budget problem.”

Neither Lewza nor Kerr would comment directly on Pratt’s role, or the reason that she is no longer working for the town. But they both said they do not think any money has been stolen.

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Reporter Bob Conner has worked 21 years in various positions at the Gazette of Schenectady, and before that four years as a reporter at the Glens Falls Post-Star. He won two first-place writing awards from the New York Associated Press Association for newspapers with circulation between 50,000 and 250,000. Bob has a Phi Beta Kappa bachelor’s degree in journalism from New York University, and an associate’s degree in chemical dependency counseling from HVCC. He is a published author and is currently writing a historical novel about the last four months in the life of Ulysses S.Grant

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