Treasurer: New office is saving county money

Ruffles

Otsego County's new dedicated business office is already saving the county money, according to County Treasurer Allen Ruffles. 

Ruffles told the county's Administrative Committee members Thursday, Feb. 18, that the new office has begun to pay county bills as they come in, saving the county from continuing to pay late fees. 

Ruffles said the county's contact with Enterprise Rent-A-Car became a test case for the new office. He said the county has never paid its bills with Enterprise — or any of its other bills — on time and the company had been waiving or delaying late fees for years. Recently, representatives from the company told him it would no longer waive fees. However, Enterprise agreed to delay the fees one more time, if the county would agree to pay on time in the future. 

In a follow-up interview with The Daily Star on Thursday, Ruffles said the fees had grown to about $2,000, and will go away if the county keeps to a payment schedule.

"That was the test case," he said. "We got a payment out in five days. It started in the business office with the invoice and it was checked and certified upstairs (the business office is in the basement of the county office building).

"The plan is the business office by mid-year or maybe early fall will be handling all of our invoices this way," he said. 

The business office was proposed by the county's IT Supervisor, Brian Pokorny, who worked with Ruffles, County Attorney Ellen Coccoma and Personnel Director Penney Gentile to refine the plan and present it to the Board of Representatives. The idea got final approval in November and the office began operations last month.

"This county has not been paying its bills on time, for at least as far back as I know," Ruffles said. 

In addition to saving on late fees, the timely payments will allow Otsego County to utilize municipal purchase cards, also known as p-cards. The cards are issued to municipalities by banks and allow county officials to make direct payments of bills. The p-cards also provide rebates on purchases, often totaling 2% or 3% of yearly purchases, depending on the issuing organization.

However, the cards must be paid off within a month, Ruffles said, so Otsego had been missing out on a plan that had saved some New York counties thousands or tens of thousands of dollars annually.    

The business office is located in the former E-911 backup center, which had been used for storage recently. It is next to Pokorny's IT office and reports to him, temporarily, until a county administrator is hired. 

The administrator position was approved in 2019, but left unfilled last year after the coronavirus pandemic forced layoffs and a hiring freeze. The position is funded for half a year in 2021 and county officials have relisted the position, in hopes of hiring a candidate who would start work mid-summer.

The committee also heard from the accounting firm, Insero & Company CPAs, about the county's 2019 audit. Accountants Leslie Spurgin and Colleen Stannard told the committee the 2019 audit earned the county the rating of unmodified. 

"That is the highest level of assessment you can have in a financial audit," Spurgin said. "So, that is a good thing." 

The audit also said the county 2019 books had "no weaknesses" and "no non-compliances." 

Ruffles said credit for the clean sheets goes to longtime county accountant Mieko Rowley. 

However, the auditors did note a 2020 problem that the county will have to address, which is a backlog of bank account reconciliations. Ruffles said 2020 county layoffs, plus retirements and a recently vacated position have combined to leave his office severely short-staffed.

"They want us to reconcile our accounts monthly, but because of staffing issues we are about six months behind," he said. "So they said something will have to be put in their findings (next year) about that." 

Ruffles said catch-up work has begun, but staffing is still a problem after the pandemic forced layoffs mid-year. 

"It was a rough year, but we feel like we are taking the county in a good direction," he said. 

The meeting was held via Zoom because of the pandemic and can be viewed on the county's Facebook page.   

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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