Reckless spending verified in Seymour
    Register Staff               September 02, 2000

SEYMOUR — A special audit of the town’s finances paints a picture of widespread negligence on the part of former First Selectman John A.O’Toole’s administration.

Town officials spent money with reckless abandon, not worrying until the end of the fiscal year to see if there was enough money to pay for everything, the audit shows. 

They routinely overspent line items and then corrected them at year’s end with transfers from the general fund, according to the audit released by city officials Friday, one day after Fairfield-based Checkers International Inc. pro-duced the report. 

Checkers was hired eight months ago to find out why the town went from a $4.9 million surplus to a $186,000 deficit during the previous fiscal year. 

A projected deficit of $3.5 million resulted in a special tax of 3.75 mills levied in May

O’Toole, who had not yet seen the report, said he may comment after he reads it. In the past he has denied the town’s fiscal problems stemmed from his administration. 

The audit, which cost $45,000, rec-ommends that the town ensure that all transactions are properly authorized in the future, and that accounting rec-ords are correctly designed and main-tained. 

The report recommends accounting data be checked periodically, and that the town charter be amended to re-quire the finance director to give the Board of Finance monthly financial statements comparing budget items. 

The report also recommends that no money be issued for purchase orders unless funds are available, and that bids not be approved unless funds are available. 

According to the report, Anthony Caserta — the assistant director of finance under both O’Toole and cur-rent First Selectman Scott Barton — told auditors that many purchase orders were filled out after the fact, even if there wasn’t money in the budget

Caserta said that when he questioned former Finance Director Art Davies about the practice, Davies said "that’s the way it was done." 

Davies said that as long as they had "excess" money at the end of the fiscal year they didn’t worry about spending money, Caserta told auditors. 

Former Finance Board member Rob-ert Koskelowski told Checkers investi-gators that board members were asked to approve transfers after the money had been spent and the bills had been paid. 

Under questioning by the auditors, O’Toole said several projects were paid for before going to the Board of Se-lectmen and Board of Finance as re-quired by charter. One example was $43,000 for the improvements to the Strand Theatre, which ran an annual deficit of $19,000 for fiscal 1998 and 1999. 

Koskelowski said he fought "tooth and nail" to get documentation show-ing there was money in the budget, but that finance board members were never given documentation. 

"Members of the Board of Finance were always in the dark … because we never knew how much money was in the budget," he told investigators. 

Checkers also reported that: 

• A grand list calculation error yielded a revenue shortfall of $1,490,000 for fiscal years 1998 and 1999. 

• On July 28, 1998, the Board of Fi-nance approved $239,563 for road-work that by town charter had to go out to bid, but never did.  Also, the town is supposed to get a written con-tract on any expenditure over $5,000, but did not in that case. 

• Under Louis Zaccaro, chairman of the Water Pollution Control Authority from 1995 to 1997, budgets were never submitted, as is required by town charter. 

• More than 200 residents had not been billed for sewer use, some dating back to 1994, and new sewer connec-tions were never assessed. 

Zaccaro said he would have to read the report before he comments, and Davies did not return calls. 

While Barton would not analyze the contents of the report, he pointed out that 116 pages of a 260-page general review dealt solely with the Water Pollution Control Authority. 

The WPCA faces a $250,000 short-fall because current sewer fees do not add up to the amount owed to the plant operator, U.S. Filter of Texas. In addition, the WPCA is missing $185,000 allocated for capital im-provements, along with years of finan-cial records

The audit recommends that a de-tailed system be written for the calcu-lation, imposition and payment of sewer assessments and also recom-mends an annual audit of the WPCA’s finances. 

Barton said that he and the boards of selectmen and finance would review the report at the Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday.