Estancia says 21 of 29 audit problems fixed

After being listed as an “at-risk” local government based on a special audit early this year, Estancia has corrected 21 out of 29 findings.

We’re taking a step back—it’s never a good feeling when you have the state auditor’s office calling,” said Estancia Mayor Sylvia Chavez Tuesday. “We called [the state auditor] and said, hey, something’s not right. … To me, an audit is a helpful tool to get on the right track.”

Town clerk Michelle Jones, who started in the position in May, update to the town’s board of trustees Monday.

The special audit report in February said the town “was unable to provide sufficient evidential matter in support of certain transactions and account balances,” especially with respect to staff balances. It offered a litany of issues ranging from poor record-keeping to unfettered access to town computers by employees and non-compliance with its own ordinances in utility billing.

Estancia’s annual audit will be in November, Jones said, adding that the town has corrected 21 of the 29 audit findings. “I think we’ve made significant progress,” Jones said.

For the use of fuel cards, for example, the town is now “strictly monitor[ing]” their use, and reconciling that against the monthly bill. If a gas receipt turns up missing, the employee will be responsible for paying for the gas, according to Jones.

The town is also creating written policies for cash disbursements and cash receipts, and a petty cash ledger. Jones said she balances the town’s books monthly.

Chavez said some of the audit findings go back 10 years or more. “I’ve been fortunate to get a couple of town clerks on the same page,” the mayor said. She added that she had set Jones with three tasks: to balance the budget, get the budget submitted on time to the state, and to address the audit findings. “She’s done that,” Chavez said. “I’m thankful we have an admin staff that understands the importance to adhere to our policies. One step at a time, that’s all we can do.”

The town is now facing a huge budget shortfall that will result from lost tax revenue from the closure of the prison facility in town—more than 60 percent of its total budget. Chavez said the town board has implemented a hiring freeze, and will not fill three open positions, two in public works and the other the fire chief.

Volunteers have stepped into the breach in the fire department, she said. The town has also identified “small things” it can do to cut the budget as it phases in more drastic cuts.