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Comptroller’s audit finds Lisbon over taxing, under spending

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LISBON — The town has kept “excessive” sums of money in its fund balance, the state Comptroller’s Office stated in an audit published last week.

According to the report, the Town Council “did not adopt a policy or develop procedures to govern the level of fund balance maintained.” In addition, the audit states that the Town Council “has not developed accurate budget estimates or a formal, comprehensive multi-year financial and capital plan to adequately address the town’s long-term operational and capital need. ... The general fund has retained excessive amounts of unexpended surplus fund balance.”

“For example,” the report continued, “in the 2010 budget, actual revenues were $98,661 or 19 percent more than the budgeted estimates while actual expenditures were $101,087, or 14 percent less than the amount budgeted.”

Lisbon has maintained unexpended surplus funds in excess of $600,000 between 2008 and 2011, including just more than $1 million in 2009 and 2010.

Town Council member Alan D. Dailey said that the report is the “opinion” of Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office and that the town has not been found in violation of any laws.

“As far as I’m concerned, as much as any government entity can keep in fund balance is a good idea,” Mr. Dailey said.

Mr. Dailey said the council maintains a large fund balance to act as a safety net in difficult financial times. He pointed to the town’s ability to keep taxes the same or lower them over the past three years.

In the 2013 budget, the town lowered the tax rate from $5.37 per $1,000 in 2012 to $5.35 per $1,000.

“I don’t see how Lisbon taxpayers can complain because we’ve either kept taxes the same or reduced them,” Mr. Dailey said.

But the council has taken steps to address the concerns of the Comptroller’s Office.

The council “hired a budget analyst to assist them with preparing budgets and planning for using and/or reserving unexpended surplus funds,” the report stated, adding that long-term planning and a more organized distribution of fund balance monies is necessary.

Town Supervisor James A. Armstrong said in a statement, “The Town of Lisbon has used the fund balance as an unofficial reserve account to address one time purchases and unexpected expenses to prevent spikes in the tax rate for its citizens.”

“It is the goal of the town board to work on a long-term financial and capital plan in 2013 to help with the appropriate use and monitoring of the reserve accounts,” Mr. Armstrong said.

He added that the town has begun to reserve fund balance money in specific accounts as opposed to keeping it all in one pool. “We’re putting some aside for capital projects.”

In the 2013 budget, for example, the town set aside an account set to accrue $200,000 in three years to be applied to a new snow plow.

A written corrective action plan is due within 90 days. The Comptroller’s Office recommended the plan be made public in the town clerk’s office.

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