BUFFALO—The Town of Boston is changing its policies after $1.5 million in equipment was discovered missing. Ranging from printers to plows, the missing equipment stretches as far back as the 1970s.
The assets were discovered by Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw’s office, after Boston Town Supervisor Jason Keding requested a review of the town’s financial records.
“Given trends I identified myself (while serving as Councilman) … that didn’t reflect the overall spending ... I asked for this review,” Keding said. “We’re stewards of the taxpayer and their money.”
Keding, who had twice voted against the town’s budget while serving on the town board, said he felt the budgets weren’t accurately reflecting the town’s purchases. He cited a $10,000 transfer from one fund to acquire two tractors in the 2018 budget that wasn’t reflected in the proposed budget as a tip-off something wasn’t being done properly.
“I didn’t think the processes were being followed,” Keding said. “I thought the best way to look into it … while being completely clear and transparent … was to request an audit by the Erie County Comptroller.”
He asked the review focus on inventory, noting the town now utilizes a third party bookkeeping service which has made it “more stable.”
The Comptroller’s office also uncovered $2.7 million in equipment currently in use that lacks documentation showing where the equipment came from.
“I anticipated [the review] wasn’t going to come back favorable,” Keding said. “I didn’t think it would be this large a sum.”
The review found a clear procurement policy on purchases between $1,500 and $5,000, but could not identify any policy on purchasing items between $5,000 and $10,000. Employees of the town were found to not be using the purchase request forms to document then equipment or fixed assets were purchased. Similarly, asset disposal forms were not filled out.
Of the $1,463,635 of missing assets, $1,142,117 worth is attributed to the highway department. Mychajliw noted the review went back to the 1970s, spanning multiple highway department supervisors.
“Is it possible some of this equipment walked out the door? Probably,” Mychajliw said at a July 5 press conference. “But it is my opinion this is the result of sloppy bookkeeping.”
Plows and ambulances that are unaccounted for date back to the 1970s, Mychajliw said, with printers and cameras gone missing in more recent years. All together, dump trucks, pickup trucks, excavators, snow plows, lawn mowers, a wood chipper, computers, laptops, cameras, copy machines, printers, office cabinets, sanding equipment, office chairs and other office furniture is listed among the unaccounted for assets.
Mychajliw also said there were “questionable” purchases made outside the scope of assets, which included a security system “better suited for Fort Knox” and $60,000 in legal fees against a former town clerk.
“I think there's been a culture of ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’,” Keding said. “It was bad record keeping and policies that … weren’t there or weren’t followed.”
Though the possibility of equipment being stolen was brought up, Keding said he hadn’t spoken to law enforcement officials and would need more information before deciding if that was a route he would take.
“I have absolutely no proof anything was stolen or that anyone did anything wrong … except to not follow policy,” Keding said. “We’re a small municipality … of course our big ticket items are going to be from the highway department.”
In 2011, New York audited the town and made recommendations on changes. Some of those recommendations may have been taken lighlty, Keding said, but he’s confident the town can now make the changes and correct itself moving forward.
“I’d like to focus my efforts on what’s in front of me and what’s on the horizon,” Keding said. “I absolutely think we can correct this.”
Keding hopes to be able to pass a resolution at the town’s July 18 board meeting to amend the inventory and procurement policies.