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No ‘slush fund’ involved in Town money transfers: Shelter Island supervisor says record keeping is culprit

When four-and-a-half pages of money transfers within departments and, in some cases, between departments, appeared on the June 3 Town Board agenda, Councilman Albert Dickson said he wanted to discuss the unusually large number of items before any vote was taken.

Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams was ready with an explanation, saying she knew there were rumors about whether there was an existing “slush fund” or something was being hidden from the public.

Of the transfers that were approved after her explanation, she said there may be between five or 10 transfers of funds that will still need changes if errors are found.

She will be reviewing the list with a contracts accountant to work through the areas where there are questions and be able to ensure the listed amounts of transfers are corrected. After making her comprehensive statement, she said would then entertain any remaining questions. There were none.

At many Town Board meetings, resolutions appear to transfer money not needed from one line to another, because some of the allocation there wasn’t needed, and assign it an area where over-spending had occurred.

Generally that’s a short list, but last year the process wasn’t accounted for meeting-by-meeting, as it should have been. The transfers were made, but not approved or recorded.

The resolution approved on June 3 by the Town Board has enabled Account Clerk Shelby Mundy to enter them, creating a clear record of what was spent where and what wasn’t.

But it’s more than a bookkeeping matter. It’s vital to have a clear accounting of what was actually spent and what may have been over-budgeted when the current Town Board begins developing a spending plan for 2025, the supervisor said.

Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams .(Credit:Adam Bundy)

She spent considerable time reviewing the causes and remedies to be taken to ensure a repeat doesn’t occur, Ms. Brach-Williams said.  “I will take responsibility” for a mistake made on a spreadsheet, Ms. Brach-Williams added, noting that she simply missed the entries that should have been regularly made through the meetings in 2024.

Because the budget developed for this year was tight, causing more need for transfers than usual, there were more instances of over-budgeting in some areas and under-budgeting in others.

When budgeting starts for 2025, the supervisor plans to not just look at what was spent this year, but to gain a better understanding of why over-spending and under-spending occurred.

As an example, Ms. Brach-Williams pointed to the Police Department budget. The way the numbers read, it appeared a total of $48,200 was underfunded, and money had to be moved from other lines to cover the spending. At the same time, there appeared to be over-budgeting on other lines, to the tune of $114,900. Balanced out, the over-budgeting was a net of $66,700, or less than 3% of what the department needed. That number drops further because a $23,600 allocation for overtime in connection with the department’s grant for opioid control programs brought the over spending down to 1.85%.

There was also the reality that, when budgeting last fall, the administration had to encumber some money to cover the cost of ongoing contract negotiations with the Police Benevolent Association to meet expected salary and benefit increases.

At the time, the Town was caught in the midst of high inflation, and opted to settle on a one-year contract, rather than the typical three- to four-year contract, which is often negotiated. Optimistic that inflation would be going down, the previous administration delayed a long-term contract to not lock in higher raises for years to come, Ms. Brach-Willliams said.

Inflation also accounted for the need to spend more on gasoline this year than had been anticipated.

Another number that stuck out for current Board members was a $102,500 expenditure for engineering services. It was much higher than had been spent in previous years. Mr. Dickson said that was the number he first eyed that had raised a question in his mind because it was so much higher than past spending for such services.

It turns out the cost was for development of a plan to remediate Fresh Pond, and the money came from a grant. Accordingly, the expense appeared to be exorbitant. When the grant money comes back, it will markedly reduce that line of spending from the town’s expenses, Ms. Brach-Williams said.

“I’m going to pay closer attention,” she promised her colleagues. “I’m doing a much closer tracking job than ever before.”