Londonderry report on impact fee audit due soonBy APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
July 16. 2013 8:43PM
LONDONDERRY — It’s been nearly a year since the town began a mandatory audit analyzing 20 years’ worth of impact fee collections.
This week, town officials said a detailed report of the audit results would soon be made public as the process is just about near completion.
During Monday’s Town Council meeting, interim Town Manager Bill Hart said the report’s final draft could be available by week’s end, pending review from Town Attorney Mike Ramsdell.
“We’ve just about reached the end of the process,” Hart told the council.
In July 2012, Hart revealed that the town owed up to $1.3 million in combined impact fees to developers and property owners, believed to have stemmed from improper collection practices.
Former Town Manager David Caron resigned a year ago, with Council Chairman John Farrell saying at the time that Caron was on a leave of absence due to a family emergency, and while he was away, matters about the way the town collects the impact fees came to light.
Farrell issued a statement, “During that time, it has become apparent to Mr. Caron and the council that the combination of the Caron family emergency and the town’s pressing business, including the impact fees situation ... has rendered it advisable for Mr. Caron and the town to sever their relationship.”
Since then, the fee monies have since been returned to the developers and owners.
In January, the town hired Melanson Heath & Company PC to complete an audit of the town’s fee collection history after receiving orders to do so by a Rockingham County Superior Court judge.
While details of the analysis weren’t available Tuesday, town officials said the process gave them much-needed insight into future needs for the finance department and its management.
Finance Director Susan Hickey said there’s always room for improvement, particularly when it comes to keeping track of department spending.
Currently, the town uses Excel, a software program, to manage its accounts, with each one listed by category — a tedious and often-confusing process, Hickey said.
“It’s a cumbersome tool, and honestly there’s a lot of room for error there,” she said. “As we move forward, we should maybe look at either switching to an Access database or adopt some other type of new software.”
“Looking at a series of 20 different spreadsheets isn’t very user-friendly,” she said.
Town officials noted that most municipal departments are tasked with budgeting their own monthly finances, though some of the larger departments, such as police and fire, do so on a weekly basis.
Hart said the analysis findings have left them with plenty of food for thought.
“The question is, where do we go from here,” he said. “What personnel mechanism do we put in place to make sure we meet statutory requirements, defray taxpayer costs and return monies to their rightful owners when necessary?”
Hart said improving the software used to organize finances would be an important step in meeting that goal, though another set of hands wouldn’t hurt either.
“Before this happened, we had no one who acted as a centralized authority; there was nobody saying, ‘This needs to be done now’,” he said. “I’m thinking that person might not be the town manager or the finance director because what we’re doing is an immense task.”
Hart said he didn’t feel such a position would necessitate full-time hours but is nevertheless worth keeping in mind as town officials prepare to enter a new budget season.
“What I’d hope to see is some type of planning person devoted to managing all our escrow and impact fees,” he said.
“Are we at risk by not having such a person right now?” Councilor Joe Green asked.
“Our risk is significantly lower than it was last year, but risk always exists,” Hart replied.
Council Chairman Tom Dolan said he was eager to put the past year behind him and look toward the future.
“With a series of audits and reviews, we’ve gone through a period of discovery, of cleanup and of process improvement,” Dolan said. “It appears we’re getting good, strong legal advice and good, strong management to get us through all of this.”