After audit, Howard supervisor urges others to move past prior conflict

Published 7:21 am Tuesday, November 9, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Howard Township officials are looking to put the past behind them.
Township supervisor Michael Sutherland said the township needs to move forward in light of the results of a preliminary 2003-2004 state audit which was presented to the township board by two Department of Treasury officials Monday night.
In addition to the audit, the two men also told township officials what changes they must make to bring the township into compliance with state auditing practices and statutes.
When questioned whether the township's former "auto lease" compensation payments program, a major issue which led the Howard Township Taxpayers Organization initiating the recall election earlier this year, was unlawful, the two men declined to comment.
The main issue with the "auto lease" payments program was that township officials were receiving money for vehicle upkeep without providing documentation of how the money was being used.
The program has since been replaced with a mileage program in which officials must document their mileage and are reimbursed.
When asked if the money from the payments program should be repaid, the officials again deferred to whether the practice could be deemed illegal. Hall advised the costs of determining the legality of the practice would heavily outweigh the money in question which would be received.
Sutherland said he thought it would be best to consider the money gone and to move forward as a community.
The report also pointed out some practices which needed to be changed to bring the township into compliance with state statutes.
One practice which was called into question was the $700-per-month payment the township made to Howard Township Volunteer Fire Department for expenses.
Vaughn advised the township that the department needed to be a separate entity which the township contracted with for services or be part of the department be part of the township with all fire fighter accounts controlled by the township treasurer.
Sutherland said the township no longer makes the payments and the firefighters are considered township employees who get paid on a point system and must fill out tax forms.
Sutherland did say the department has also set up a non-profit organization, separate from the township, for fund-raising purposes.
Vaughn said while the process is legal, he would recommend it to avoid confusion among citizens of the township.
Sutherland also pointed out the fire department did not have the means to purchase its own equipment, one of the stipulations of being a separate entity under contract.
Vaughn said it could be possible to contract services from the fire department, while letting firefighters use the township-owned property in its work.
The report also stated that giving Christmas gift certificates or Christmas bonuses, while acceptable for private businesses, is an illegal practice for governmental units. Sutherland reported the practice had been discontinued.
Vaughn concluded the report by stressing that every amendment to the budget must be approved by the township board to ensure expenditures would not exceed budget appropriations.