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Aug 27, 2014 9:40 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Audit Results Do Not Surprise Some West Hampton Dunes Residents

Aug 28, 2014 2:58 PM

A recently released state audit that slams the bookkeeping practices of West Hampton Dunes, citing multiple errors that range from simple math mistakes to more serious filing oversights, has prompted some residents of the tiny oceanfront village to question those in charge of their finances.

Richard Agins, who has been a summer resident of the village since 1981, said earlier this month that he was disappointed to learn about the results of the audit, which was completed by the state comptroller’s office and concluded that longtime Village Treasurer Claire Vegliante—the wife of Mayor Gary Vegliante—followed questionable accounting practices that, state officials contend, led to the village posting a $140,000 deficit. The village’s budget for 2014-15 totals almost $1.59 million.

“I’m very disturbed that they’re running the village improperly,” Mr. Agins said. “Our taxes keep going up, but they’re not repaving the road or painting the lines on the roads. The mayor and treasurer are getting large salaries, but they’re not doing their jobs.”

Another resident, who did not want to give his name but noted that he has owned a home in West Hampton Dunes for about a decade, said he was not surprised by the results of the audit, which examined the village’s finances from June 2011 through December 2012. The report blasts Ms. Vegliante, concluding that invoices, checks and receipts were not properly accounted for, and that the Village Board failed to conduct financial checks that are designed to catch errors before they lead to deficits.

“I’m not terribly surprised,” the resident said. “The same thing happened around 2001, with the same cast of characters.”

Two other village residents approached by a reporter for The Press said they were unhappy to learn about the bookkeeping issues, though they declined to offer their names or elaborate further on their observations.

To help make up for the shortfall, the $1.59 million budget adopted earlier this year by the Village Board increases overall spending by $86,000 and, in turn, raises taxes by approximately 11 percent. The bump in the tax rate was planned to make up the deficit, according to Mr. Vegliante.

Mr. Vegliante, who has been the only mayor in village history, said during a recent interview that officials have 90 days to respond to the audit, a report that he contends is riddled with errors and inaccuracies.

“I don’t know how they got any of those numbers,” he said. “Not one word in that entire document cited the fact that the period of time they audited was part of the worst weather conditions in the history of Long Island, between [hurricanes] Irene and Sandy.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars recovering from those storms,” he added. “Thank God we had the reserves to do it.”

The report, however, states that the village’s fund reserves were steadily depleted over the last few years, from a more than $318,000 surplus as of the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year to the current year’s $147,734 deficit, due to a combination of overestimated revenues and underestimated spending. The audit also paints a picture of questionable filing and record keeping, with state officials noting that Ms. Vegliante, who has been the treasurer for 21 years, routinely missed deadlines for filing the village’s annual financial reports—a practice that, if properly followed, could have flagged the spending issues earlier.

Ms. Vegliante, who now earns $30,000 annually from the village and also works as a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker in Setauket, declined to comment on the audit when reached last week. She said she was advised by the village attorney, Joseph Prokop, not to comment since the audit is still under review. “I don’t want to answer any questions,” Ms. Vegliante said.

Mr. Prokop has not returned calls.

West Hampton Dunes Village Board members Gary Trimarchi, Renee Brown, Michael Craig and Catherine Woolfson also did not return calls over the past two weeks. No one answered the door on Sunday and Monday at the homes of Mr. Trimarchi and Mr. Craig. And, according to the 2014-15 village tax rolls, Ms. Woolfson no longer owns property in West Hampton Dunes. It was not immediately clear if the board intends to hold a special election to replace her on the five-member board.

In spite of the critical report, Mr. Vegliante said he expects the village to post a surplus once the books are closed on the 2014-15 fiscal year. He said he also expects to finish paying off a $200,000 budget note from 2013 that was used for storm recovery. According to a copy of the 2014-15 budget, the village still owes $450,000 on a $600,000 road improvement bond issued in 2008, $200,000 on another budget note from 2013, and $670,000 on capital improvements borrowing as of June 1, for a grand total of $1.32 million.

“I don’t believe we’ll have a deficit of a penny,” Mr. Vegliante said. “At the end of this year, I expect a surplus to be left over.”

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