Financial questions continue
Saratoga Town Council presented with new report for approval, expresses concern over most recent balance sheet
September 25, 2019
“Is it true that we are out of money?”
The question asked by Councilmember Jon Nelson during the Sept. 20 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council was just one of several that have been asked in recent public meetings of the governing body.
The financial state and health of the town have taken center stage during the twice-monthly meetings as Nelson has begun publicly expressing his concerns. At the most recent meeting, the council was provided with new reports that, instead of answering questions, raised more.
Pick A Number
While the approval of the bills has often been a fairly routine step for the council in the past, questions raised by Nelson during the Sept. 3 council meeting (see “Financial inquiries” on the front page of the Sept. 11 Saratoga Sun) led Saratoga Town Clerk Suzie Cox to provide the council with an updated report. As Saratoga Town Treasurer Sammy Flohr read the accounts receivable and gross payroll, it appeared that the amount for the council to approve was $111,960.12.
Nelson asked Cox and Flohr if the $45,884.18 in gross payroll included the manual checks the Town of Saratoga would have to write. Cox confirmed that it was.
Under council comments, however, a total of $47,775.44 was listed for manual checks and included child support, garnishment and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) withdrawals.
“I apologize. I’m confused now. When we approved the bills, we said that the $45,884 was the total of the manual checks and the paychecks,” said Nelson. “How could $47,000 be included in the $45,000?”
Cox stated that the amount listed in manual checks went to the Town of Saratoga’s share, adding that gross payroll and net payroll did not include the share of benefits paid for by the town.
“My understanding of the general purpose of having the approval of the bills is so we all understand what’s going out following the meeting. Whether that’s through an electronic transfer or through a manual check or an automatic check or through a paycheck,” Nelson said. “So, the $111,000 that we talked about earlier is what I would perceive to be the sum of all of those things; whether they’re FICA or healthcare or paychecks.”
Over the course of the discussion among the council, and with Cox and legal counsel Tom Thompson, different numbers were reached for what amount the town council needed to approve ranging from approximately $115,000 to $151,000.
Nelson made a motion to amend the approved financials from $111,960.12 to “the correct amount to be paid.” With four different numbers to pick from, it appeared unclear which amount was correct. Councilmember Bob Keel stated that he believed the amount to be approved was $115,519.45—which included gross payroll, accounts receivable and the town’s portion of FICA and Medicare—along with the quarterly payment to Blue Cross Blue Shield of $36,445.68.
Running A Deficit?
Following the amended approval of the bills, Nelson asked Cox and Flohr if there were still issues with Casell, the accounting software used by the Town of Saratoga. During the Aug. 20 Saratoga Town Council meeting (see “Discussing finances” on page 3 of the Aug. 28 Saratoga Sun), Nelson had asked about a budget of $830,000 for the community garden which had been an error that had been reported to be corrected.
“I believe, and we all acknowledged, that there were some errors in that. One of them was the community garden. My understanding was that you guys got with Casell. We got an email from Sammy saying that those issues had been corrected,” said Nelson. “One of the concerns that I expressed to the council over the last week, week-and-a-half, was it’s hard to be able to tell, with errors still floating around, what we actually have to work with in the general fund.”
Referencing the newest balance sheet provided to the town, Nelson asked if the amount he was reading was correct.
“By this statement, am I understanding that the total assets are negative $394,603? And that’s an earnest question. I’m asking for some help understanding whether I’m interpreting that correctly or not,” Nelson said. “On page three of the report that was provided today, it shows total assets in the general fund of negative $394,000.”
The rest of the council, along with Cox, Thompson and Flohr, spent approximately three minutes looking through the most recent balance sheet to find the amount Nelson had stated. The council member stated that he had been expressing his concerns via email with the rest of the council about whether or not there was enough money in the general fund to cover general fund expenses.
Thompson, after looking at the balance sheet, stated that the Town of Saratoga had approximately $290,000 in unallocated assets and $1.5 million in allocated assets. Nelson replied, stating that the $1.5 million was money set aside for specific projects and the $290,000, while reducing the apparent deficit, did not return it to a positive amount.
“I can’t read this report and I don’t know if that third page is representative of a deficit or if it’s some other number. Looking at the first page, I would say not and I wonder if it’s just a problem with the formatting of the report. I don’t know how you can reconcile page one with page three,” said Thompson.
During the discussion, it was revealed that a meeting to discuss finances was planned for the following day. Mayor John Zeiger requested that Casell be included via phone on the discussion, stating that the owners of the program had admitted to errors in the past and Zeiger wanted to know if the current errors were Casell’s or the town’s.
The results of the meeting on Wednesday were revealed on Friday afternoon, when the Saratoga Town Council unanimously agreed during a special meeting to engage with an outside accounting firm (see “Town of Saratoga to engage outside accounting firm” on the Saratoga Sun website).
The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on Oct. 1 at Saratoga Town Hall.