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Preston town audit late for second straight year

Preston — For the second straight year, the town will be months late in filing the mandated annual audit with the state, a problem town leaders hope will be corrected by the time the next audit is due Dec. 31.

A year ago, town officials were surprised and forced to scramble after the contracted audit firm abruptly canceled its agreement with Preston, citing inability to obtain the necessary documents remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Town officials secured extensions from the state Office of Policy and Management to avoid penalties and hired Winsted-based King, King & Associates to complete the 2019-20 fiscal year audit by April and for the following two fiscal years.

But in November 2021, the Board of Selectmen informed the Board of Finance this year’s audit would be late as well, and the town applied for a 30-day extension through the end of January. First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier told the finance board that won’t be enough time, and the town will need another extension through February, possibly through March.

This time, Allyn-Gauthier cited the town’s own staffing issues in key financial positions as the reason for the delay, along with a complicated conversion to a new accounting software. Longtime elected town Treasurer Susan Nylen retired with the 2021 election, and selectmen voted last spring to convert the position to an appointed treasurer, hired by the Board of Selectmen.

New Treasurer Erin Gizio started Nov. 1 to have several days of overlap before Nylen’s departure.

“We’re firming up the timeline,” Allyn-Gauthier said of the audit. “I’m hoping that we can finish it up sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, with our treasurer retiring, we have a new treasurer. We were hoping to close everything out before she retired. And the software conversion, we are working through that process.”

The town also lost former town and school Finance Director John Spang and now has an interim finance director, Bill Merrill, as town leaders narrow down a search for a permanent replacement. A search committee recently interviewed two finalists and made a strong recommendation to the Board of Selectmen, said Robert Congdon, former first selectman and currently acting Board of Finance chairman. Congdon served on the interview panel.

Congdon called the audit delay “unacceptable,” and while the town does not face a financial penalty from the state with an approved extension, he said the “real penalty” could come the next time the town needs to seek a bond for a major project.

“I would be very, very surprised if we maintain our AA+ bond rating,” he said.

Allyn-Gauthier told the Board of Finance in December that it would take additional town staff to get this year’s audit done any quicker. Merrill told the board the three-month timeframe was realistic.

Both Allyn-Gauthier and Congdon said preparations must be made to ensure this is the last time the town won’t meet the state Dec. 31 deadline for completing the audit.

“The sooner it gets done, the better for all of us,” Congdon said, “and the sooner we have a plan that addresses the issues so we can be more timely in the future, the better.”

“In a perfect world, it would all go smoothly and be on time,” Allyn-Gauthier said. “We’ll just have to work through it and make sure we all get on track in our future years.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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