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Comptroller: Owasco highway superintendent, town board failed to follow procedures
OWASCO

Comptroller: Owasco highway superintendent, town board failed to follow procedures

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A newly released state comptroller's office audit — which contributed to a 2019 criminal charge against the elected Owasco highway superintendent — found that the town's highway department operated with little oversight and in violation of multiple purchasing policies.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit report on Friday for a review his office conducted from Jan. 1, 2018, to Nov. 22, 2019. In December 2019, Owasco Highway Superintendent Robert Bruno was charged by state police with official misconduct and accused of using town resources on repairs and parts for his personal equipment. In a deal reached a month later with a special prosecutor, Bruno agreed to make $655 in restitution to the town in exchange for the criminal charge being dismissed.

When state police charged Bruno, troopers said they worked in conjunction with the state comptroller's office as part of their investigation, which stemmed from a complaint made by a town employee.

The audit report issued Friday makes no accusations of criminal wrongdoing, but it outlines numerous concerns auditors had with the way Bruno and the town board handled purchasing. Among the key findings:

• Auditors found 596 highway department claims worth $349,824 did not have an approved purchase order request, and 599 claims worth $356,815 did not have an approved purchase order;

• Auditors reported 234 claims totaling $96,900 that lacked documentation to support a town business purpose for the expenditures;

• The department failed to competitively bid vehicle and equipment repairs or a vehicle purchase;

• Bruno failed to maintain adequate equipment inventory or did not make sure highway employees’ time worked was accurately accounted for.

The audit report also addressed Bruno's use of personal equipment for town work, a practice that led to the criminal charge against him but that town officials, including Supervisor Ed Wagner, had lauded because they said it saved taxpayers' money.

The comptroller's office saw the situation, which the town formalized in a June 2019 agreement, differently.

"Under this agreement, there will be no fee to the Town to use the equipment, with the exception of related repairs up to $750, and the Superintendent will maintain any required insurance," the audit report said. "However, it is unclear whether the repair threshold is in aggregate or per incident and how it will be determined that a repair was related to Town work and not a preexisting issue. The Town previously recognized an informal arrangement with the Superintendent to authorize the use of his equipment for Town related purposes, but no formal agreement was established until 2019."

In a written response to the comptroller's office draft report dated March 15, Wagner and Bruno said the town agreed with the audit findings and was forming a corrective action plan in response to it.

In a phone interview Friday, Wagner said he's trying to get the corrective action plan finished for the town board meeting next week.

"Most of the stuff had already been corrected," Wagner said. "It was nothing illegal, but it was a matter of following proper procedures."

Wagner also expressed appreciation for the auditors who did the review.

"They work really hard," Wagner said. "They make good recommendations."

Bruno has been Owasco's highway superintendent since 2012. He is running on the Conservative and Republican party lines for reelection this year to a new two-year term. No other candidates filed petitions to run for the office.

Jeremy Boyer can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or jeremy.boyer@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer

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