Outside auditors who spent a week combing through financial transactions for the fiscal year that ended in May had only nice things to say about accuracy and transparency of Village of New Paltz books. They also confirmed that the village’s financial position is a healthy one. The accountants summarized their findings during the November 16 board meeting.
Most years, there are two reviews that are performed by the auditors, but for this past year there had to be three. The first checks on how accurate and transparent the books are; this resulted in a “clean” opinion that there’s no funny business going on. Second is a check for deficiencies or weaknesses in the internal controls that are in place to ensure that money isn’t being embezzled or used improperly; that also resulting in a “clean” opinion, which is the word accountants use to say that everything looks fine. The third layer of audit was triggered by the amount of federal grant money being used for village projects, which includes $3.5 million toward the firehouse project and several hundred thousand more in stimulus payments and for sewer improvements. That opinion, too, was “clean.” Since about half of the firehouse money was spent during the current fiscal year, this third layer of scrutiny will be included in next year’s audits, as well.
Village finances seem to be going well; expenses rose more than projected, but revenues exceeded the budget by a bit more. Village officials have successfully been able to keep the fund balance — the excess tax money collected that’s the only emergency savings available to a municipal government — at about 22% of expenses for several years, providing a cushion of $600,000 to $700,000 to pay for clearing snow during especially hard winters, repairing broken water mains, and addressing other unexpected problems as they crop up. That pile of cash can also be used to supplement the next year’s budget, rather than turning to taxpayers; this year, for example, $185,000 was used from the fund balance to ensure that village property taxes didn’t need to be increased.
Water revenues really dried up, though; the village’s water system depends on a large number of students living on campus, and the dorms have only been 43% occupied due to the pandemic. “We didn’t need to hire a consultant to figure out what to do with our ARPA money,” said Mayor Tim Rogers, referring to funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Without that aid, the fund balance in the water account would have dropped to zero, or possible even less. Water district funds can’t normally be mixed with general tax funds, because water systems are supposed to be paid for by the users, who are not necessarily the same group as property taxpayers.