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State releases audit of Huntington finances

Huntington Town Hall in an undated photo.

Huntington Town Hall in an undated photo. Credit: Alexi Knock

The Town of Huntington routinely pays supervisors overtime that might not be necessary, allows employees to accumulate excessive unused sick, vacation and personal days, and contracted with 23 attorneys for a total of $1.9 million without using the request-for-proposal process, according to a state comptroller's report audit released Friday.

For some town officials, the report was good news.

"I am especially pleased that, having looked at the broad range of financial policies and procedures, the comptroller's office focused on two very limited issues in a $190 million budget," Supervisor Frank Petrone said Friday in a statement.

Councilman Gene Cook, an Independence Party member running against Petrone for supervisor this fall, said the audit "just goes to show part of the mismanagement of the way Frank Petrone has been running the town."

The audit, requested by the town, initially focused on policies and procedures related to internal controls. After assessing dozens of records and interviewing town employees, auditors focused on two areas -- payroll and legal services -- they identified as "weaknesses," according to the comptroller's office.

The audit, covering Jan. 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, found the town might have higher payroll costs than necessary because officials did not monitor and control these costs.

The report cited one month when Huntington paid 15 supervisors who reported arriving before their normal work schedule a total of $15,000 in overtime without verifying whether it was justified. If earlier starts are needed, the town could save $179,000 annually in overtime costs by adjusting arrival times on supervisors' schedules and by controlling overtime use, the report concluded.

The audit also said four current employees had leave balances greater than the 60-day limit allowed by contract -- one had 453 days -- and six retirees with excessive leave balances received retirement benefits in excess of contract limits.

"Our audit found the town may be able to reduce overtime and other costs with stronger procedures and oversight," comptroller spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said.

The audit also said the town contracted with 23 attorneys without using the RFP process outlined in town policy.

Cook said Huntington spends too much on outside legal services. "Something isn't right and it smells . . . and the taxpayers deserve better."

The town in its written response defended some of its practices -- saying, for example, it occasionally permits leave balances to accrue over allowable limits in times of emergencies such as storms but no one is paid more for accrued time than set by contract.

It also said it would take some actions, such as creating a uniform sign-in sheet for all departments and discussing some audit issues with unions during the next negotiations.

The town appreciates "the audit's insight on how to make Huntington's government operate even more efficiently," Petrone said. "We will consider changes to implement the recommendations we have not already put into place."

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