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Greig clerk covered tax shortfall with grant money, audit says

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GREIG — The town clerk last year covered up a $16,000 shortage in a tax collection bank account with state funds intended for an environmental improvement project, according to a state audit.

And, while longtime Clerk Karin Fayle reimbursed the town out of personal funds when questioned by auditors, the state comptroller’s office has referred the case to state police for a possible investigation.

“The lack of basic board oversight and poor record keeping allowed this individual to cover up that thousands of dollars were missing,” state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in a statement. “Town residents shouldn’t have to question if their tax dollars are being used properly. Working with our law enforcement partners, we will determine if further action is warranted.”

In July 2011, the town’s tax collection bank account did not have sufficient funds to cover a final check to the Lewis County treasurer for county taxes collected by the town, according to the audit report. So Mrs. Fayle diverted a $17,365 state grant check intended for the Black River Watershed Initiative, which has since been completed, to cover a $16,007 shortage.

The regional state-funded initiative, intended to improve opportunities to use and protect the river, was coordinated by the Lewis County Soil and Water Conservation District but contracted through the town of Greig, which would receive the funding and disburse it for projects along the river basin in Greig and other participating towns and villages.

When questioned about the discrepancy by auditors in September, Mrs. Fayle acknowledged the shortage and later reimbursed the town from her personal account for the full amount, the report states. The clerk told state officials the apparent shortfall was probably a result of a combination of issues such as cash errors, incorrect change, misplaced money and payments posted in the computer system without being paid, it states.

Mrs. Fayle also told auditors that her daughter, the town’s deputy clerk, and her granddaughter, who is not a town official, helped collect taxes in 2011.

“Allowing a non-employee to receive funds on behalf of the Town is inappropriate,” the report states.

The audit, which covered 2008 through 2011, also found that Mrs. Fayle did not maintain a cash receipts journal to record money collected for licenses and fees or provide financial reports to the board to enable monitoring activity in the Black River Watershed account.

The comptroller’s office also faulted the Town Council for failing to audit or hire an independent auditor to examine the town clerk’s records for 2010 and recommended that it be done at least annually from now on.

The audit also suggested town officials ensure that all receipts are properly recorded and deposited, maintain a cash receipts journal and make sure the town supervisor maintains custody and accounts for town funds and does not inappropriately delegate that responsibility to other officers.

In response to the audit, the Town Council in July sent the comptroller’s office a six-page letter detailing its action plan. The letter indicated that most of the recommendations already have been implemented, with the rest to be completed soon, and that 2012 property taxes were collected in compliance with those suggestions.

Town attorney Mark G. Gebo on Thursday afternoon declined to comment extensively, saying he hadn’t read the comptroller’s report, but did indicate the issue took place and was handled some time ago.

Mrs. Fayle, who also operates an income tax preparation service from her home, and Town Supervisor Marilyn E. Patterson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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