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Clean up the mess in Union Township

| Thursday, June 17, 2004

At a time when municipalities are struggling to provide basic services, it was discouraging to learn Union Township's records are so fouled up that an audit could not be conducted.

If anything, officials in the cash-strapped township should be vigilantly keeping track of every well-pinched penny that arrives and departs.

At a recent meeting, accountant Brian Walker said, "We immediately detected some poor accounting records."

Walker said he encountered the following:

  • Board meeting minutes from May through December 2003 were not available.

  • Pension trust funds were not reconciled.

  • Out of approximately a dozen township bank accounts, only two were prepared for the audit.

  • Payroll tax liability accounts were not reconciled.

  • There was not enough documentation for tax collector records, transfer tax revenues and certificates of deposit.

  • The possibility exists that the township's former secretary-treasurer signed township checks prior to approval.

  • An IRS bill indicated $55,000 was owed in payroll taxes and penalties.

    The problems at Union Township range far beyond accounting deficiencies. By all indications, the township office is being badly managed, and that is a mild description of what is going - or not going - on.

    Meanwhile, the supervisors are full of excuses.

    Walt Lang, chairman of the board of supervisors, said the computer system was infected with 273 viruses, which made it impossible to find the minutes. Really• Well, how many viruses are the supervisors willing to endure before purchasing an anti-virus system or calling a professional• A thousand• A million?

    Supervisor George Uremovich just threw the matter back in Walker's face. Uremovich said he couldn't understand why Walker's firm had such a hard time performing an audit when the previous auditor, Cypher & Cypher, completed audits without problems.

    Supervisor Steve Parish was equally willing to target Walker. Parish wanted to know why Walker's firm did not contact former township Secretary-Treasurer Bernie Speer to obtain necessary information.

    "It's not my responsibility to find the information," said Walker, who added that any attempt to conduct an audit without sufficient information amounted to a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    The supervisors are in the business of handling money that does not belong to them.

    Given that, it is especially troubling that questions exist involving pension money and payroll taxes, which are withheld from employee paychecks. Many would consider mismanagement of such money tantamount to criminal activity. At the very least, Union Township taxpayers should not be paying penalties and interest for the supervisors' inability to run the business of government.

    All that said, Walker noted he was not alleging criminal wrongdoing. Still, it makes a person wonder what happened to cause all the confusion.

    For now, the supervisors should forget about politics, road projects and everything else -...until it restores financial order to Union Township. And if they are not willing to do that, then they should step aside and let someone else do the job.

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