Auditor urges greater oversight of Montville WPCA

Montville — An auditor recently recommended tougher financial oversight at the town's Water Pollution Control Authority, including new policies guarding against fraud, clearer expense reports and a code of ethics.

Accounting firm PKF O'Connor Davies said it identified almost $30,000 in questionable spending by WPCA personnel between 2014 and 2018. The auditors highlighted a pattern of scant or nonexistent documentation for meals and expenses, bidding and purchase order policies that went unfollowed, excessive tips and reimbursements for clothing and cellphone use without official WPCA approval.

WPCA Chairman and Town Councilor Jeff Rogers released the accountant's audit report in an email at 10 p.m. Friday to several media outlets in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Day in July. The WPCA hired PKF O'Connor Davies after a push from Rogers in March.

The report recommends the WPCA implement a formal spending policy for its pair of credit cards; currently there is no "requirement for supporting documentation" for purchases. The auditors also called on the WPCA to "immediately discontinue" buying lunch for vendors, which they described as unethical and "not the standard business practice for municipalities."

The report documented dozens of credit card expenditures totaling almost $13,000 between August 2014 and June 2018 at Mohegan Sun's Tuscany, Bobby Flay's Bar Americain, Chili's and other restaurants with "no documentation on who was present or the purpose of this expense."

One exhibit in the report notes a host of credit card purchases totaling more than $5,300 with "purpose unknown" or "no invoice," including seven $500 gift cards, four $279 PayPal charges and $671 in goods at BJs and Amazon.

The report said WPCA accountant Maureen Benway was reimbursed $720 annually for cellphone service, part of "an informal agreement that started approximately 15 years ago." The auditors recommended that the WPCA develop and implement a formal cellphone reimbursement policy.

Employees also received about $1,000 in reimbursements for clothes — some at the direction of former Administrator Brian Lynch, the report said — over the four years under review. Such reimbursements are not included in any contract with employees, PKF O'Connor Davies said.

The report also urged clearer financial reporting and guidelines allowing for proper monitoring of expenses and budgeting, calling on the town finance director to supervise cash disbursement, bank reconciliations and bidding. A "significant number" of disbursements, including a majority of credit card charges at restaurants, were charged to miscellaneous expenses as opposed to specific budget lines, the accountants said.

"I think the best practice would be to take the suggestions of the auditing firm and begin implementing changes," Rogers said in an interview Saturday. He added that the WPCA likely would discuss the report at its next meeting, currently scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 5.

Rogers said when he was elected WPCA chairman in February, he had been "suspicious" of spending. He asked wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Derek Albertson, hired in October 2018, to dig into expenses prior to his arrival and to provide Rogers with "a detailed list of specific expenses."

That list, which was not shared with The Day after a Freedom of Information Act request, prompted Rogers to contact PKF O'Connor Davies in March. Rogers on Saturday said the cost of the audit "did not exceed $10,000."

Rogers said the accountants shared the report on the audit with the commission during a June 3 executive session. The WPCA has held multiple executive sessions on the issue, claiming it is a personnel matter. But Lynch — who was in charge during most of the period examined — had asked town officials to discuss the issue in public sessions.

Lynch declined to comment on Saturday. He and former plant Superintendent Michael Didato resigned and took jobs in Putnam last summer. Lynch and town councilors had argued over purchasing policies and the amount the WPCA paid the town for financial services, according to officials and emails obtained by The Day last year. Didato noted earlier this year that he was largely uninvolved with WPCA finances.

The Day's Freedom of Information Act request for the audit report was denied in July on the grounds that the document was part of an ongoing state police investigation, according to Rogers, town attorneys and state police.

The state police public information office said in an email that it was not available for routine matters on weekends.

b.kail@theday.com

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