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Reporter's Notebook

July 27, 2013

Fiscal report's opacity doesn't amuse mayor

Accounting principles more than numerals were the focus of a discussion about at audit at an Oneonta Common Council meeting earlier this month.

Willard G. Reynolds of Bollam, Sheedy, Torani and Co., certified public accountants, reviewed an audit of 2012 city fiscal matters. The review overall reflected that the city is in “good shape,” he said at the July 16 meeting at City Hall. 

But before Reynolds got much into assets, spending and fund balances, the mayor insisted that he clarify a headline in bold that said “Adverse Opinion on U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.” 

The city of Oneonta applies the “regulatory basis” of accounting permitted by the state but not those principles generally accepted in the United States, which it had implemented in 2003 to 2006, the report said. 

The city hasn’t applied the Government Accounting Standards Board No. 34, or GASB 34, principles since 2007 because they created major demands on staff, time and procedure, among other reasons. Also, GASB 34 resulted in no apparent benefit to citizens, the audit said, and the city’s historical bond rating hasn’t been negatively affected by preparing regulatory financial statements. 

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller asked Reynolds several times to speak in layman’s terms. The city salutes the state controller, not GASB, Miller said, and he asked Reynolds the difference among reports made before and after 2007. 

“Nothing has changed from a substantive point of view?” Miller asked. 

No, agreed Reynolds, who ventured that GASB 34 doesn’t add much to accounting reports. Reynolds otherwise had praise for the city’s financial documents and status. 

During the open forum at the end of the council meeting, Miller clarified his frustration over the audit and its presentation. The fiscal report actually is the product of the city’s finance department staff, he said, and the city is paying for “holy water” to be sprinkled over the numbers in an audit that has “a lot of weasel words” and is difficult to understand.  

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