• Mon. Sep 25th, 2023

Bloomfield misses municipal audit deadline

BLOOMFIELD —  As it becomes increasingly difficult for towns to fill finance positions, Bloomfield is among municipalities that have missed the Dec. 31 deadline to submit an audit for fiscal year 2022 to the state’s Municipal Finance Advisory Commission.  

Experts say the failure to complete an audit before the Dec. 31 deadline is becoming a trend across the state and country due to a shortage of municipal finance directors.

“The supply-demand gap for state and local public finance workers is widening faster than the same gap for the finance sector overall, the public sector overall and the economy overall,” reads a September 2022 report from The Government Finance Officers Association. “The gap is growing because while state and local public finance is experiencing very strong demand for workers, it has seen net employment loss each year since 2019.”

In an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Town Manager Stanley Hawthorne reported Bloomfield’s finance department was in “crisis” when he arrived on the job in August 2021. Since then, the department has struggled to maintain a finance director. 

Bloomfield is among the municipalities who missed the Dec. 31 deadline to submit an audit, and as of the Feb. 27 town council meeting, the town had not even started the process.

“This is bizarre,” said Councilor Rickford Kirton at the Feb. 27 meeting. “There’s no way we should be going into a budget process, and you’re telling me that we don’t have an audit.”

Hawthorne learned of the audit’s status the week of Feb. 20 after meeting with the auditors. He said the  zero percent progress refers to field work completed by auditors, not internal work by the finance department. That field work cannot be completed until the finance department gathers certain information — information Hawthorne said they had not compiled.

“There are major structural things that have to be corrected in Bloomfield,” Hawthorne said at the Feb. 27 meeting, “which we started to address quite frankly, with the budget last year. There has been a deficiency in certain departments, finance included, departments that were in crisis when I got here and remain today.”

Hawthorne said shortages in the department are both “quantitative and qualitative.”

Hartford completed its audit by the deadline, but the city also has vacancies and the department is understaffed. Hartford’s finance department is actively looking to hire a budget analyst, a senior field representative, an assessment technician and two accountants. 

The state Office of Policy and Management maintains an electric audit reporting system. The Hartford County towns of Avon, Canton, East Windsor, East Granby, Granby, Farmington and Windsor completed their audits. Simsbury, Windsor Locks, Wethersfield and Enfield are not listed in the system with completed audits.

Diane Waldron, GFOA member and comptroller in Bristol, said the challenge to complete audits is influenced by short staffing and increasing complexities in the audit process over the years.

“There have been, over the last couple of years, a large number of reporting requirements that the Governmental Accounting Standards Board has implemented that became effective over the last couple of years and it has put a burden on finance staff to gather that information and to get it ready for the audit,” Waldron said. 

Right now Bloomfield is operating with an interim finance director and no deputy finance director.  Councilor Kenneth McClary, chair of the Finance Subcommittee, predicts the audit will be completed late summer or early fall. 

At the March 7 meeting of the Finance Subcommittee, Hawthorne said the Finance Department will meet with the auditors next week to go over the timeline in more detail.

The transition between former Finance Director Keri Rowley and interim Finance Director Sharon Gentles-Harris led to some of the delay in beginning the auditing process. 

The Board of Education, according to an email from Board of Education Chair Donald Harris, provided Rowley with the necessary documents from the board to complete that portion of the audit on Dec. 5, and  Gentles-Harris received them again on Jan. 19. 

Despite this, at a March 7 meeting of the Finance Subcommittee, Vanessa Rossitto, who works with the auditing firm CLA, said she needed the town to be “audit ready” before proceeding and named “reconciling with the Board of Education” among the items on the to-do list. 

“This situation was not our fault,” Harris said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media. “I have since received a couple phone calls from council members thanking me because they realized that the Board of Ed did not fall back on their responsibility.”

Gentles-Harris said at the March 7 meeting that understaffing and “triple responsibilities” are impeding the process.

“We have the budget and the audit, and we have our regular responsibilities,” Gentles-Harris said. “We need adequate staff to make sure we can get this done on time and efficiently.”

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