Pownal internal auditors, town clerk discuss tax ID number concerns

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POWNAL — The town clerk and auditors have agreed the clerk will retain her own tax ID number and account for town fees she receives, pending feedback from external or forensic auditors.

Still, two of the three auditors warned Town Clerk Julie Weber that having her own account is a potentially risky move.

"I've had my own tax ID number for over a year and a half now with no issues," Weber said during a meeting Thursday morning with the town's internal auditors, Dave Adams, Tom Lenkowski and Crystal Gardner.

Any business, including a municipality, has a federal tax ID number. A municipality would have only one tax ID number. It's used in many types of transactions to identify an entity, for things like payroll taxes, when doing business transactions with companies, or when applying for grants.

Weber said she requested the meeting due to an article in the Oct. 26 edition of the Banner, in which an internal auditors report identified concerns over the town tax ID number — namely, that Weber was being prevented from accessing it.

Weber said it is "unclear" as to why the town tax ID number was raised as an issue, "because I don't need it."

Weber told the auditors she had asked the previous Select Board for the town's EIN number, and the board told her she couldn't have it. She got her own number, she said.

"I said, I don't have the time and energy to fight with the Select Board at the time," she said. "It was the previous board."

"I get recording fees," she said. "I turn in a check every week to the town I have all my taxes and the whole nine yards comes out of that."

In response to a question from Lenkowski, Weber clarified that fees she collects from residents go into an account set up in her name.

Weber sends the money she collects to the town, which then runs it through their payroll system and sends her her share, Adams said after the meeting.

"It's a very tight system," he said.

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Lenkowski said he's not sure that anyone had any questions, other than those regarding the tax ID number.

"There is one concern," Adams said. "What happens if something happens to you, and you're the only signer?" he asked Weber.

Weber said she has an assistant town clerk, and if the auditors would like a second signature on her account, she'd be willing to do that.

"No one has talked to me directly about the issue of why [Weber] should be using the town's [tax] identification number," Adams said. "But apparently the board and the treasurer have been instructed to forward the town number to her."

At a meeting in late October, the Select Board voted to ask Town Administrator Michael Walker to ask the town treasurer to release the tax ID number to the town clerk.

The request followed Walker's reading of a monthly internal auditor's report that identified multiple items of concern, such as: payroll withdrawals without supporting documentation; credit cards and bills being paid late, incurring late fees and finance charges; and individuals conducting work outside of their scope of duty.

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The report also identifies concern over the town tax ID number.

"The elected town treasurer indicates that they are the individual that controls the town tax ID number," Walker said, reading from documentation, at the meeting. "This is invalid, as the Select Board is ultimately responsible for all town finances.That being said, the town clerk is being prevented from having an account with the correct ID number. If this would happen, all accounting would be in one system."

According to Walker's reading, the documentation asks the board to make a motion and/or directive to instruct the treasurer to release the tax ID number to the town clerk.

"We met with Michael, and we expressed our concerns to him," Adams confirmed Monday. Walker chose to read "every single" concern they brought publicly, Adams said.

Town Treasurer Ellen Strohmaier, when previously asked for comment about the report, said there are inconsistencies in it, "and that's all I have to say at this time."

Lenkowski and Gardner cautioned that the current practice puts Weber at risk. "If someone had given you the town's EIN number, you would have just opened an account with that number, and the money would have gone in there, and you would have taken out your fees from that," he said to Weber. "Versus now, you keeping the fees in there and giving the town the money."

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Lenkowski also said his guess is when people pay fees to the clerk, like those for dog licenses, they may assume they're dealing with the town. Gardner made a similar point.

"I've never had any issues or concerns, like holding checks, or checks bouncing," Weber said. "I just want to be clear. I want to be on the same page with you guys."

"The risk is certainly there," Lenkowski said. "And the risk is there for you."

Responding to a question from Lenkowski, Weber said other towns have handled their clerk accounts in a similar way. She said she would ask the outside auditors if there's anything else she needs to do.

"I hearken back to the EIN number," Lenkowski said. "We talked about why there are two accounts, and I understand that the treasurer felt you should have your own account. I wonder if it shouldn't have been the same EIN number."

Adams said they need to wait until the auditors — either the external or forensic ones — tell them the practice is either right or wrong.

The town is currently undergoing a forensic audit, which will cover six years back from the day it begins. The forensic audit is separate, and in addition to, the routine external audit the town undertakes every fiscal year.

"It's a black-and-white issue," Adams said. "Either it's okay or it's not okay. If it's not okay, we have to correct it."

"I'm fine with that," Adams said.

Weber agreed.

"I don't want any issues," she said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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