Marino: Show Me The Money Trail [UPDATE]
Show me the money trail, that is the battle cry of one local leader.
Common Councilman Joe Marino begins the open letter to his colleagues on the Utica Common Council and the Board of Ethics by stating that the City of Utica "needs financial assistance at every level" and ends by questioning whether budgetary practices in place are not only dangerous but possibly illegal.
He asks for unanimous consent of the Common Council "...to bring all of our books, bank statements, financial records and audits to us and the City of Utica Board of Ethics."
Marino says that they legislators cannot, in good conscience, vote on a budget without numbers in place. An audit of the city's books, he asserts, is late and no account reconciliation is available for exactly how the people's money is being spent.
WIBX has made multiple calls and reached out via e-mail to Utica Comptroller Bill Morehouse and former comptroller Michael Cerminaro, who is still overseeing the city's books. Despite election promises of transparency, Morehouse has yet to return a call or request for a comment. UPDATE: 03/14/2014 12:52pm WIBX has been told that a comment from the Comptroller's office is pending completion of the current audit for the City of Utica.
The complete text of the open letter is below:
"Dear Colleagues and Board of Ethics Members,
Our city clearly needs financial assistance at every level. For far too long our finances and records have been in disrepair. Now, I believe we have a duty to utilize the opportunity that has been presented to us by the Governor and the State of New York. Through this Financial Restructuring Board we can gain meaningful assistance that we clearly need now more than ever. By this council calling for support of this resolution is in no way fodder or a call to attention, this piece of legislation is a necessary first step to gain acceptance to this Boards program.
In addition to asking the state for help, I think it is vital to recognize how we came to this point. We are all aware of the heavy burden that contracts, unfunded mandates, pension and healthcare costs weigh on our city; however there are decade’s old systemic problems that we simply cannot afford to ignore any longer. This city has made a practice of paying bills without appropriate funding in budgetary lines and without the due process of going through the necessary step of a budgetary transfer by way of our Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Utica has paid bills with actual cash that has been collected for property taxes for either The Utica City School District or Oneida County subsequently leaving our direct municipal partners short on moneys that are vital to their operations and our shared tax payer’s services.
These practices are not only inappropriate or financially dangerous they are illegal according to our Utica charter Sec. 5.104(b) "The Comptroller shall audit before payment all bills, invoices, payrolls and other evidence of claims, demands or charges against all funds of the City. The Comptroller shall approve such claims, demands and charges, if proper and legal, and only if moneys have been appropriated and an unexpended and unencumbered balance is available." These practices aren't only a financial burden on us all they are also punishable by a fine or even jail.
When this occurs, the city in turn needs to borrow to cover and adjust for these mistakes. I will no longer add to our heavy debt and poor accounting practices. Our City deserves better. We currently are paying in excess of $7 Million for our debt service, and to put that into perspective, that is more than our whole DPW and our entire paving allotment combined.
As a Councilman, I cannot responsibly do my job that the people entrusted me to accomplish with this happening. Now the Common Council has already passed a resolution requiring monthly bank statements to see where money is going in an coming out of, from over a year ago. We have yet to receive these records as this resolution has been ignored. We have repeatedly asked for an official monthly cash flow statement in order to gauge our cash position and we have yet to see one. We have asked for a current audit and account reconciliations and currently the audit is late and we have not seen one reconciliation to date. This is unacceptable and I can’t conceivably make an appropriate decision on a nearly $70 Million dollar budget with none of this information.
I hope for a unanimous show of support by my colleagues on the Common Council of this call to bring all of our books, bank statements, financial records and audits to us and the City of Utica Board of Ethics; I can’t see another way to start the healing process of this city’s financial stability.
Very Truly Yours; Joseph A. Marino; Councilman, 4th Ward"
UPDATE: 03/14/2014 12:25pm Samantha Colosimo-Testa issued a press release stating that she would introduce a resolution to halt borrowing by the City of Utica pending completion of the audit.