Norway and Paris will likely hire the same auditing firm for at least one year of financial oversight, a move both towns’ managers say will be slightly more expensive, but in the end, more prudent.
Sharon Jackson, manager of Paris, and David Holt, Norway’s manager, started talking last year about teaming up to hire a new auditing firm. For small towns, the move often makes sense because auditing firms will offer two or more municipalities discounts.
Then word surfaced in March that Norway’s community development director is alleged to have stolen $55,000 from grants meant for economic development.
That drove the point home that the towns could stand to have a more comprehensive audit of the towns’ finances.
“This year it makes sense for us to do that,” Holt said by phone Tuesday, adding later, “As a town we have to assure people we’re taking the appropriate and necessary steps to manage the town’s funds well.”
Norway has already recommended that next year’s budget include about twice as much money to pay for a town audit, more than $12,000.
On Monday night, Jackson presented the proposal to Paris selectmen, saying that the auditing firm Holt and Jackson recommended – Runyon, Kersteen and Ouellette – had priced fiscal year 2006’s audit for Paris at $8,000. That figure included a 15 percent discount for partnering with Norway.
Paris selectmen agreed to hire the firm for one year and seek bids for a three-year contract later.
Paris has just finished a three-year contract with the firm Hoisington and Bean of Norway, which averaged out to about $7,000 a year, Jackson said. The firm has been doing Norway’s audits for decades, Holt said.
Jackson said it’s good practice for towns to change auditors every few years to get a fresh eye looking at the numbers.
“If you continue to use someone over and over again, they may not see something,” Jackson said Tuesday by phone. “They’ll start fresh.”
Holt said that he invited Hoisington and Bean to submit a one-year bid for the audit, but the firm declined. “I talked with them and they disclosed to me, given the circumstances, that they are not interested in doing this. … They said they would forgo this year.”
Holt said he expected Runyon, Kersteen and Ouellette to submit a new bid for Norway soon, and predicted it would be higher than Paris’s because Norway has a sewer department and a larger community development program.
“The new company will provide some services the old company didn’t,” Holt said, like comparing Norway’s status with other towns and calculating how many more roads Norway still has to fix up.
But it cannot guarantee it can catch shady accounting practices.
“This company said while they might have picked up on that thing sooner,” Holt said, referring to the ways which money was allegedly embezzled from Norway’s coffers, “They might not have also.”