According to Craig Schutt, the past financial mismanagement of Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District is not his fault and will not affect his ability to manage Dryden’s budget as the town supervisor, a position he’s running for this fall.
For 15 years ending in mid-2013, Schutt served as the district’s manager and in the latter part of his tenure, annual auditors’ reports found multiple recurring problems with the district’s finances. Although as district manager Schutt was responsible for drafting budgets, in an interview last week he said that the blame lies with the district’s board of directors. He said, “The truth of it is that the problem was more with the board than it was with me. I was giving the board all the correct information, and they just weren’t following through.”
While the district has not yet returned documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act, the county did provide four years of management comment letters from the CPA firm Ciaschi, Dietershagen, Little, Mickelson, and Company. Those documents paint a picture of a district in increasing financial disarray.
In all four years—from 2008 through 2011—the district’s spending exceeded its revenues, resulting in a $369,767 deficit fund balance by the end of 2011. In some years, the approved budgets were incomplete and in other years the auditors noted that supporting documentation was not available for some expenditures. Also, the payroll was not being charged to grants on a regular basis, deposits were not made in a timely manner, and the district manager accrued more compensation time than permitted under district policy.
The auditors noted that they were not able to obtain a formal accounting policy regarding the capitalization of assets. Despite repeated recommendations that this be remedied, the comment continued to appear in successive years of reports and had not been addressed by the end of 2011, the last year of documentation the county was able to provide.
Furthermore, in both 2010 and 2011, the district flouted General Municipal Law by investing in mutual funds, which are not an approved investment type.
The current district manager, Jonathan Negley, said that all of those issues have since been addressed: “We’ve worked with the auditors and the State of New York and Tompkins County and corrected all the problems that were in those audit reports.”
Nonetheless, right now the district owes the state money, to the tune of about $100,000, according to Negley. Under the current payment schedule, Negley said it will take 5 to 10 years to pay off. Though he would not discuss who was responsible for creating that mess, Negley did say that the money is owed to repay state grant funds that were misallocated.
In 2011 the CPAs noted that several grants had no financial activity or were not closed out properly and that the funding for two grants was not renewed, likely because final reports were not filed in a timely manner. They warned in their comments, “Failure to comply with grant requirements could lead to the loss of grant funding in the future or requests from the grantor to repay the awards.”
Because the county is under a confidentiality agreement, the exact circumstances of Schutt’s departure from the district are unclear. However, he maintains that the manner of his departure indicates that he is not at fault: “When I stopped working they continued to pay me for six months, and I made more that six months than the previous six months. So if I was such a bad boy, why did you keep paying me?”