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Audit critical of Plainview Water District budget

A state audit of the Plainview Water District budget criticizes the agency's accounting and ethics, citing among other things $770,000 in overspending in one year, personal use of a work vehicle, and the questionable hiring of relatives.

The comptroller probed the district's financial practices between January 2010 and April 2011.

"The District's code of ethics did not address or establish procedures in relation to hiring, supervising, and evaluating the performance of family members," the report read. "In two instances, we found no indication that Board members recused themselves when members of their immediate families were appointed as District employees."

Auditors also found the superintendent's annual leave accruals exceeded the provisions of his employment agreement.

District officials "generally disagreed with our findings and recommendations, and indicated they would take limited correction action," the report by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office read.

A summary of the Plainview audit was widely released by the comptroller's office by email Wednesday, but the full report was later removed from his website. A comptroller spokesman would not say why.

Newsday obtained a cached version of the report.

District officials were not identified by name in the audit, but Richard W. Tobin has served as superintendent since January 2009.

According to the report:

A sport utility vehicle was purchased for his business and personal use, though he kept no log of when and how the vehicle was used. The district could have saved $41,000 over five years had he used his personal vehicle.

The district paid $2,000 in tuition for an employee who is also the superintendent's immediate family member and whose grades did not meet district policy requirements. The superintendent determines whether the courses are in the district's best interest.

The district defended both practices in a statement.

"The Board of Commissioners considers the Superintendent a critical first responder who is on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day and must have a properly equipped vehicle to perform his duties," the statement read. "Like many other municipalities, the District provides tuition incentives for employees seeking additional training and education that would better equip them on the job."

The district did not address any accounting issues.

Auditors found that in 2010, the board of commissioners did not require regular budget reviews, leading to $770,000 in over-expenditures and $1 million in urgent year-end budget transfers. The district avoided a deficit only because it had $1.2 million in underestimated revenues.

The district that year also issued debt to fund capital projects, though it had $2.7 million in capital reserve funds, the report said.

Auditors also found information technology security lapses so egregious that the vulnerabilities could not be listed in the report and had to be communicated confidentially.

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