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July 27, 2013

Fiscal report's opacity doesn't amuse mayor

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — 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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Area history buffs — and perhaps some students — have more time to check out the state’s role in the Civil War. 

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” at the New York State Museum in Albany had been set to close in September. Now it will be open until March 23, the Associated Press has reported. 

Displays feature artifacts such as firearms and other equipment produced in New York, and the earliest photograph of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who’s buried in Rochester. The exhibition also highlights the stories of some of the nearly 450,000 New Yorkers who fought. 

Earlier this month, the exhibition was given an Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History. 

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While area colleges have been gleaning recognition for academic programs and community service, two public colleges recently were noted for giving of a different vein. 

The Red Cross Life Share Program and SUNY Scholarship Partnership have recognized SUNY Cobleskill for the highest participation rate among four-year SUNY schools in blood donations to the American Red Cross, a media release said. The recognition marks the sixth consecutive year the college has received the honor. 

The State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill collected 533 units of blood from among an enrollment of 2,615 students, resulting in a 20.38 percent participation rate. The participation level earned the college a Platinum Standard Life Share Level, which provides a $2,000 scholarship for a member of the college’s Student Government Association, the organization which usually sponsors the blood drive, the release said. 

The State University College of Technology at Delhi also ranked as a SUNY leader in American Red Cross blood donations, a release from that campus said, and the college earned a $1,000 scholarship. 

SUNY Delhi also announced that the A. Lindsay and Olive B. O’Connor Foundation of Hobart has earmarked $28,000 in matching grants to support the college’s O’Connor Center for Community Engagement in 2014. 

The grant will allow the center to continue helping with students with volunteerism opportunities and other programs, the release said.

DENISE RICHARDSON is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact her at drichardson@thedailystar.com.