More questions than answers as Byron residents address audit

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Fifteen Byron residents look over a five-page audit update letter during the selectmen meeting Tuesday. At the table, from left, are board members Rick Comstock, Chairwoman Linda Joyal and James Ramey. (Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times)

BYRON — There are still more questions than answers as the town awaits the completion of its audit, which Ron Smith of the accounting firm RHR Smith & Co. indicated Tuesday could be in the next 30 days.

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Chairwoman Linda Joyal handed residents copies of an audit update letter she received Aug. 9 from Smith.

Smith told residents on May 25 that since the town’s last audit in 2014, when it was already three years behind on audits, things “have gotten much worse.”

After 10 minutes of silence in the Coos Canyon Schoolhouse to read the five-page update, many of the 15 residents attending had questions, all answered by Joyal.

“Do they feel there’s fraud and/or criminal activities with the Town of Byron’s finances? Philip Paquette asked. “If you feel that way, and it is, what’s our legal action?”

Joyal responded, “I can’t answer that question right now. We’re going through the audit with the company that we hired, and we will do everything that’s required of us with the findings that we have.”

Cheryl Wade said, “Am I to understand that the reason the audit is taking so long is because there’s no record of any monies taken in or paid out for all these years?”

“Our books were not complete, so we have to build them for the last four years,” Joyal said.

Judy Boucher asked, “What if there’s a property out there that people don’t have intentions on selling, yet what if the auditors find they owe 10 years of back taxes. Would the town be able to collect those back taxes?”

“I don’t believe we can,” Joyal said.

Sarah Paquette asked, “By now, the 60th day, it sounds to me like they have a lot more work to do. So are they going to come back for more (money)?”

Joyal said, “I have not heard it’s going to cost more yet. We agreed on a certain amount.”

“But they didn’t know what they were getting into. Nobody knew,” Paquette said.

Smith said they will be reaching out to former town employees and municipal officers to answer the many questions they have compiled.

“We are confident in a very little time that a face-to-face meeting with these people with the information gathered to date will provide all of us with some much needed clarification and insight on past town record-keeping and assist with these reconciliations,” Smith wrote in his letter.

Issues noted during the audits for fiscal 2014-17 include:

• The town did not appear to have all town banking records reconciled to town information. Much of this was in the area of cash receipting;

• Deposits were not being done in a consistent and timely manner. As much as one month or more may have passed between deposits;

• Board of Selectmen meetings were inconsistently recorded or missing. The selectmen’s activity becomes clouded with poorly recorded and missing minutes;

• It appears the town’s tax collector neglected to file tax liens. In addition, no tax abatements were issued on these taxes;

• It appears that Form I-9’s were missing from payroll records. In addition, they were unable to substantiate employee pay rates; and

• The town neither recorded nor accounted for its funds manually or on municipal software.

Joyal and Selectman James Ramey learned after their election this year that the town had not had a financial audit for four years. In April, voters approved hiring the firm to review records from 2014 to 2017.

On April 12, a week after the audit began, Allison Freeman submitted her letter of resignation as town clerk, treasurer and tax collector. She held those positions since 2013.

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