State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Credit: Newsday, 2012 / Audrey C. Tiernan

The state comptroller criticized Nassau County Thursday for allowing vendors to begin work before the county legislature and a state control board approve the agreements.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a report Nassau often misses the 45-day contract approval deadline. However, DiNapoli said county departments generally follow guidelines requiring them to sign off on the contracts and not to pay vendors before the agreements get final approval.

"The county has implemented a thorough contract approval process, but there are delays that must be eliminated," DiNapoli said. "County officials need to identify and implement corrective actions that would make the process more efficient while maintaining proper oversight."

Deputy County Executive Tim Sullivan said, "We were pleased to see the state comptroller found we had a thorough contract approval process. But we agree the process is too long and needs to be streamlined."

The administration of County Executive Edward Mangano will work with the county legislature to address the audit findings, Sullivan said.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board that controls the county's finances, requested the audit in 2011 because of concerns about delayed payments and unauthorized bills. NIFA declined to comment Thursday on the report.

Auditors reviewed 29 contracts from January 2010 through March 2012 that exceed the $50,000 threshold requiring approval by the legislature and NIFA.

While the contracts followed the appropriate approval path, the report found seven exceeded the 45-day limit.

For instance, it took the county 156 days in 2011 to approve a contract for special counsel services, the report found.

Auditors found the approval time grew to an average of 85 days after NIFA imposed a control period in January 2011. The report attributed the contract delays to bottlenecks in the approval process, which includes six county offices, not to NIFA.

Due to the lengthy review process, auditors found that more than half of Nassau's vendors began work on contracts before agreements were signed by the county. Work on a contract for counseling services, for example, began 110 days before it was executed by the county. Vendors are aware that they may not be paid if they begin work before the contract is approved, Sullivan said.DiNapoli said the policy "is generally not a good business practice because neither party is protected by the terms and conditions of the unapproved contract."

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