HINSDALE, N.H. -- The concerns the selectmen had about possible misconduct from the woman who served as Town Clerk and Tax Collector were validated with a recently released audit, according to Chairman Bernie Rideout and Town Administrator Jill Collins.
The selectmen developed suspicions over the summer about both the Town Clerk's and the Tax Collector's offices when some concerns were brought to their attention. Town Clerk Tammy-Jean Bacala (then Tammy-Jean Akeley) was elected Tax Collector in March 2013 and served in both roles until James MacDonell was elected Tax Collector last month. The audit, conducted in November 2013 by Vachon, Clukay and Co. in Manchester, details some of Bacala's shortcomings in regards to the handling of money, as well as other aspects of the jobs.
Attempts to contact Bacala were unsuccessful.
An internal investigation noted some disparities, including that the Town Clerk was collecting a $2.50 fee from citizens paying the state portion of their vehicle registrations through the town. The selectmen say she was also receiving a salary, and state law prohibits a Town Clerk from collecting both. A Town Clerk is reimbursed with the fee only if not on salary with the town. The fees are otherwise supposed to offset the town's costs to keep the office open. Based on the number of registered vehicles in town, it is possible Bacala has received an extra $12,000 each of her 13 years on the job, according to Collins. Bacala took over for Jean Savory, who died on Aug. 30, 2001.
The audit found that the fees Bacala collected were not sent to the Town Treasurer for proper documentation. It recommends all Town Clerk fees be passed along to the treasurer from now on. The audit says the Town Clerk should then submit the necessary information for her portion of the fees, which should be paid through the payroll system.
Bacala has long maintained she did nothing wrong and insists she was entitled to the fees she collected. In August 2013, she told the Reformer she was making $18,000 per year and the selectmen had acted mischievously by changing her status from hourly to salary-based shortly before making their allegations. She said she initially made $10.95 an hour for 66 hours every two weeks but got her pay increased to $11.10 an hour, only to be cut back to 64 hours every two weeks. But Mike Darcy, a selectmen and the former chairman of the board, said this is untrue and Akeley was paid hourly after taking over for Savory 12 years ago and then became salaried, like every other elected town official, when she was elected in her own right.
According to the town, Bacala started reporting the agent fees on registrations and in the motor vehicle reports, which have been submitted with each deposit to the treasurer. At Town Meeting last month, voters adopted an article that results in the Town Clerk being paid a salary in lieu of statutory fees.
In regards to Bacala's record-keeping habits as Tax Collector, the auditor's reported that there were several transactions entered into the system that contained no supporting documentation to justify the posted activity. Also, the audit says Bacala was posting payments to the system prior to the actual date the money was send to the treasurer to be documented. According to the audit, the activity of the Tax Collector is time-sensitive for report processing and generated reports are inaccurate and "cannot be reconciled to the general ledger" when receipts are posted in the system before the money is sent to the treasurer. Doing this can result in errors that go unnoticed and financial decisions made by the selectmen due to incomplete or incorrect information.
The auditors recommend that all tax activity be entered into the system on the same day it is received and that Bacala keep all relevant documentation.
Vachon, Clukay and Co. was unable to find several signed tax warrants levied by the Tax Collector for an 18-month timespan. The auditors noted the town is not in compliance with a state statute that requires the Tax Collector to submit a copy of the signed warrant and an actual tax bill to the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration, and therefore recommended that Bacala hold on to the original or photocopied tax warrants during any given year. The audit also recommends Bacala prepares a Tax Collector report (an MS-61) each month.
Rideout told the Reformer the audit speaks for itself, though it is nice to have information from an independent third party. He said Bacala will remain as Town Clerk, as the audit simply pointed out some errors and appropriate remedies.
Rideout also said Bacala will not have to reimburse any money to the town and the settlement reached in March is actually still valid -- and the selectmen must pay her back all the fees she hasn't been paid since Aug. 1, when the selectmen starting enforcing the state statute that prohibits a town clerk from receiving both salary and convenience fees.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.