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Financial inquiries

Saratoga council member questions finances, dissents on approval


September 11, 2019

“I don’t have any more questions, but I can’t approve these bills.” 

Following nearly 30 minutes of discussion, Councilmember Jon Nelson provided the lone dissenting vote when it came to approving the bills as presented to the Saratoga Town Council during their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 3.

Starting with questions about overtime accrued by Recreation (Rec.) Director Lisa Burton over the last two pay periods, Nelson’s inquiries also centered around payroll, manual checks and liabilities.

Going Into Overtime

When the council was presented the bills for consideration, Nelson asked if the rest of the council was aware that Burton, who was not in attendance, had worked over 80 hours in the last two pay periods. Upon raising his concern, Suzie Cox, Town of Saratoga clerk, addressed Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Wilcoxson, informing him “during the summer, when she has more than five people she is supervising, we have opted … in the past that we do pay overtime for her for that”, otherwise, Burton was still being paid part-time.

Nelson followed Cox’s explanation by stating that the overtime hours were “an example of a decision made on this side of the building (referring to administration) about how we’re going to spend money.”

He added that the council had appropriated money to cover those wages “in the hope that at some point in the future that we would have a discussion as a council and as the public about whether or not that was something we were going to do.”

“Spending the money is something that does still have to come before the council,” said Nelson. “It’s how we do business, but I don’t see how recreating a full-time position, or creatively providing somebody with full-time pay, is exempt from that. I think that would need to be brought to the council. I think we should have talked about it before that happened.”

Councilmember Bob Keel asked Cox what would have happened had Burton not worked the extra hours and Cox stated that the municipal swimming pool would have closed. Councilmember Judy Welton followed by asking Cox if the pool, which traditionally employs high school and college students, was short staffed. Cox stated that it was.

“Had we had the conversation prior to the decision being made and the action being taken, I’m not saying that we would have arrived at a different conclusion. Maybe we would, maybe we wouldn’t have, but we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss it before the decision was made,” Nelson said.

“If I understand this right. We had budgeted to pay somebody, just not somebody overtime. That’s where the concern is?” asked Keel.

Nelson confirmed that was his concern, adding any decisions involving the budget, including payroll, needed to be discussed in open meetings.

“It’s really about the fact that if they don’t happen in here,” said Nelson, “Then there’s no record of it and the people don’t get to understand how their money’s being spent.”

As discussion continued among the council, Keel asked Nelson if he felt that notification of overtime by part-time employees either before or at town council meetings would “rectify the situation.” Nelson stated that it would. 

“I think it’s up to you guys to make a decision (on) what you’re going to do with her because she can’t cover what she’s doing in 32 hours,” said Cox.

With the pool preparing to close following Labor Day, Nelson stated that he believed Burton should return to working her regular part-time hours. He added that whether she remains at part-time or is promoted to full-time in the future is a discussion to be had by the council.

Payroll Probe

Following the discussion around part-time employees working overtime, Nelson moved onto payroll and the summary of bills provided to the council. The council member asked Sammy Flohr, Town of Saratoga treasurer, if the amount listed for payroll as of Sept. 3 was gross pay or net pay. Flohr informed Nelson that he didn’t handle payroll. Cox was out of the room at the time.

When Cox returned to the council chambers, Nelson asked her the same question about payroll. The town clerk stated that the amount listed was gross pay. It was then asked by Nelson why the gross pay was being listed along with the amounts for retirement, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), garnishment, child support and deferred compensation.

“It looks like we’re doubling up and so it looks like we’re approving more money than is actually going out in payroll to employees for each period,” said Nelson. “My question is; are we approving more money than is actually going out in the form of payroll and deductions?”

Cox replied to Nelson, stating that she only included the liabilities to provide the council with an idea of the breakdown for payroll. Nelson stated that it all added up to the final total that council approved to leave town hall the next day.

“If the amount stated for payroll is the gross pay, then either that number should already include those other deductions and FICA or that amount should be net pay and the deductions paid separately,” Nelson said.

Before going to a vote on the bills, Nelson asked Cox and Flohr if the amount approved during the Aug. 20 meeting left town hall “in one form or another” or if the amount had been inadvertently overstated and the amount that left town hall was less than what had been approved. He added that he did not expect an answer at that moment.

Upon Nelson finishing his questioning, the bills were approved by a vote of 3-1.

The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17 at Saratoga Town Hall.


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