Water utility, panel discuss accounting concerns

MERRIMACK – Merrimack Village District officials took offense to portions of a Budget Committee report citing nearly a dozen concerns about the water utility’s accounting practices.

The three-page report, presented to the Budget Committee on Wednesday night by a subcommittee, listed concerns about not receiving MVD financial data (including an audit) in a timely manner, concerns about the utility’s new billing software and lack of a staff accountant.

James McSweeney, who became business manager and superintendent of the MVD in March, said such a report might not have been necessary had the Budget Committee approached the MVD with questions and received “all the facts” first. Lon Woods, chairman of the MVD Board of Commissioners, agreed.

“You didn’t ask, one way or the other,” Woods said.

Budget Committee member Carol Lang said it was the committee’s intention to meet with the MVD, and apologized for not doing so. She and another member cited family reasons.

The subcommittee’s report questioned capital reserve funds that should be administered by the trustees of the trust funds, missing revenue figures in last year’s year-end review, inaccurate comparison of year-to-year expenditures for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 budgets, and a list of other concerns.

The subcommittee was formed based on the 2002-03 budget.

“The intent is not to cast any blame on anyone,” Lang said. “It’s to address some outstanding issues . . . get input from the MVD . . . and move on as we have in the past.”

In a 10-page response, the MVD addressed all 11 concerns.

“Every area of concern is being looked at closely, including an internal audit in several areas in which we have questions, but few or no answers,” McSweeney wrote in the MVD response.

Regarding the trust funds, McSweeney said the MVD Board of Commissioners (which has been administering funds) has been dealing with proposed legislation that would allow it to oversee the district’s capital reserve funds. But that legislation has not passed, so the commissioners plan to turn the capital reserve funds over to the trustees after an internal audit is completed.

As for revenue figures not being provided, McSweeney said the information the Budget Committee had asked for was in the possession of the former superintendent.

“I can’t respond as to why that happened, except to say that it did and shouldn’t have,” McSweeney told the committee.

In April 2002, the MVD computer system crashed, and all of the water utility’s financial data was lost. The MVD brought in accountant Helen Green to work with the MVD’s finance specialist, Natalie Therrien, and the two spent six months recreating records and rebuilding the system.

The MVD has been working to resolve issues stemming from the system crash, and those issues are a work in progress, McSweeney said.

The MVD has followed up by hiring new auditors and finance office staff.

“It is believed that once the current staff is adequately trained and the systems are working correctly, that they will be able to maintain a reliable and accurate financial reporting system,” McSweeney wrote in the response.

In the future, McSweeney said, the year-end budgetary reports will be done as soon as the year is complete.

“There’s a lot of progress being made at the MVD,” Woods said.