Next steps for Estancia’s finances

Estancia Mayor Sylvia Chavez laid out steps to repair its financial state, which a special audit revealed as in danger of fraud and abuse due to lack of controls.

A special audit was requested by the town, Chavez said, and Estancia is implementing recommendations of State Auditor Tim Keller.

A report released by Keller’s office said the town’s accounting practices are so poor that the town is at risk for “fraud, waste or abuse,” with some $1.6 million at risk.

The audit report said the town has a “problematic lack of clear policies and procedures and internal controls” for everything from procurement to the way fuel cards are used, to Estancia’s use of funds bequeathed to the town for its library.

The town’s response said the board of trustees “were unaware that these policies and procedures were not in place.” The special audit found “shortcomings” in 18 different areas.

Last year the town hired Debra Kelly as its clerk/treasurer. “Moving forward, a year ago, I hired a town clerk that has 20-plus years in government, especially municipal government,” Chavez said. “That has been very helpful. She’s taken measures to get is in the correct stuff to move forward. The special audit goes back for about 10 years—10 years of past administration that we have to make up for, that maybe things weren’t being done in the best manner.”

In those 10 years, the town has had several changes in administration due to resignations of past mayors and trustees, which led to appointments to fill those vacancies. “It’s part of why we are where we’re at,” Chavez said. “So many people changed—mayors, clerks, it takes its toll. My goal is to get us at a point where we’re not in a situation like where we’ve been in the last couple years.”

Kelly had been town clerk from 1999 to 2004, Chavez said. “She said these books aren’t where they need to be [when she started the job],” Chavez said.

That experience as town clerk and treasurer will come in handy, Chavez said. Another change is in moving from software used by small businesses and individuals to accounting software used by government offices. That will be phased in at the beginning of the year, she said.

“There are things we need to implement and we had a slow start in getting those done,” Chavez said.