Michaels calls for full audit of Fulton finances

Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels

FULTON, N.Y. – Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels is asking the state’s fiscal watchdog to perform an in-depth audit of the city’s finances.

Michaels, who took office in January as the city’s first new mayor in more than a decade, requested the audit in a letter dated Sept. 22  and sent to examiners in the state comptroller’s regional office in Syracuse. The audit request is part of a series of actions Michaels, who has a background in the financial industry, is calling for to improve the city’s financial health and transparency.

“I have called on the New York State Comptroller to perform a risk assessment and audit of the city to ensure the council and city officials were supplied adequate financial information to effectively manage the city operations,” Michaels said in a statement late Wednesday.

Reached on Thursday, the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said it would “carefully review” the request but declined to comment any further on the situation pending further investigatory action.

Councilor Tom Kenyon, C-1st Ward is the longest serving city councilor with more than a decade of service and applauded the move on Thursday, saying an in-depth audit “needs to be done.”

“Any time you change administrations I think that’s the first thing you should do,” Kenyon said of auditing the city’s finances. “Go right in there, do an audit and see where you stand… I’m not saying things are wrong, but there’s nothing wrong with doing an audit when you change (administrations).”

The mayor is asking for a “total audit,” Kenyon said, noting the results of an audit would provide city officials with an understanding of what could be improved for taxpayers.

Michaels’ letter requested the audit look at the city’s financial condition management and financial reporting and oversight. The mayor specifically requested the comptroller’s office to determine if key decision makers and city officials effectively managed the city’s finances, and if adequate financial information was made available to the city council for the effective management of city operations.

“As elected officials, the community has entrusted us to make sound financial decisions on behalf of the taxpayer and create a strong foundation for future decisions,” Michaels said.

“A key role of the council and city officials is the responsibility to effectively manage the city’s financial condition,” Michaels added.

Michaels said over the past eight months she’s taken “a firm stance on how we do business and where we need to do it better.” She pointed to changes including calling for a budget process that begins earlier in the year, and requiring department heads and councilors to attend budget training. Reviewing vendor contracts and health insurance components would be among other measures.

“I will continue to take a deep dive into the city budget because my experience as a business woman has shown the importance of questioning practices, challenging status quo and making difficult decisions,” Michaels said, adding the above steps are a small sampling of the changes made to move Fulton “to more transparent and effective financial management.”

The city of Fulton last year was, for the first time in three years, not included on DiNapoli’s annual list of municipalities in fiscal stress for the previous budget year. Fulton was listed in “moderate fiscal stress,” which is the second-most concerning designation from the comptroller, in 2017, 2016 and 2015.

The city of Fulton in 2013 asked the then-newly formed state Financial Restructuring Board, convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to offer state help to struggling municipalities, to complete a review of the city’s financial conditions and make recommendations.

State officials made a number of recommendations in 2014, including that the city develop a shared services plan with the county and other municipalities, hand over the property foreclosure process to the county, update and/or revise its comprehensive master plan, make an effort to return city-owned properties (typically acquired through tax foreclosure) to the tax rolls and demolish and redevelop the former Nestle site.

Some of the state’s recommendations were followed, but the city took no or incomplete action on some of the state’s proposals.

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