Comparing apples to apples: Festival report process under review

By SHERIDAN CYR

STAFF WRITER

The Town Council at their Jan. 8 meeting announced that the Apple Harvest Festival 2017 financial report entered into the record in November was reported incorrectly. Councilors said that they are currently working toward a solution.

AHF Committee chair Chris Palmieri and vice chair Tom Lombardi each assured that money was not missing or stolen. The problem was in the reporting.

“No one ever said anyone believes that money was taken or mishandled. It was just reported wrong,” said Palmieri. “I never thought, said or believed it was mismanaged.”

In November, Lombardi reported that the AHF reserve fund balance was $180,000. On Jan. 8, that balance was reported to actually be $110,000. Lombardi took ownership for the misreporting.

“That $180,000 figure includes what has been paid by sponsors,” he said. “We need to look at that number once revenue and expenses are flushed out. That’s where we get the $110,000 figure.”

The reserve fund is in place to assure the festival doesn’t dip into the town budget. When the festival makes money, the income goes into that fund, and it becomes a safeguard for a potential loss in future festivals. It also pays for capital improvement projects that are needed for the AHF, but that also continue to benefit the town after the festival is over.

In addition to the reserve fund balance being off, the finance report produced by the AHF Committee had a number of expenses either incorrect or missing from the report. Police overtime was off by about $2,500. Fire department overtime, an $837 value, was missing. Fireworks, a $12,600 value, were missing. These and other numbers were reported by Palmieri on Jan. 8.

The discrepancies came to light when Palmieri asked the finance department to review the report. He has returned to the AHF Committee for 2018 as chair, and said the 2017 report “didn’t seem right.”

The committee doesn’t actually handle the money as it comes and goes. The finance department handles all of the checks. Additionally, the committee members are volunteers, whereas the finance department is a paid staff. It makes sense to get the official finance report through them, which is what Palmieri said he would do.

Palmieri said that the committee will consider changes to how they track their finances, which will include an updated financial report at each meeting throughout the year. In addition, line item descriptions produced by the committee will match the finance department, so that they are tracking the same payments.

Both Palmieri and Lombardi agree that a process is necessary going forward.

“We need to rely on the internal controls of the town,” said Lombardi. “Let’s stand together, form a process, and continue moving forward.”

Lombardi assured that the festival coordinator, Jim Champagne, who produced the committee’s report, is not at fault.

“Jim did a great job—the best that he could. He put his heart and soul into this committee,” Lombardi said. “He was in the finance department office three times a week working with them on the numbers. We need to look at all levels of this.”

Lombardi said he is proud of the new process going forward. “This is a big improvement,” he said. “Let’s not let it be overshadowed.”

Officials said that the issue will be on the next meeting’s agenda on Monday, Jan. 22.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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