Auditors report forces Dukes County to revisit its budget

— File photo by Steve Myrick

Dukes County officials must rework their $1.5 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year (FY) that begins on July 1, 2013, after learning that the calculations that underpinned their spending plan differ from the figures received in an independent auditor’s report.

The report prompted the cancellation of a county advisory board meeting the evening before the members were scheduled to meet on March 6. The county advisory board, made up of one selectman from each Island town, has oversight responsibility for the Dukes County budget. They were scheduled to review the budget at the March 6 meeting.

“Our audited numbers from last year (fiscal year 2012) just came in,” Dukes County Commission chairman Tom Hallahan of Oak Bluffs told The Times on the day the meeting was cancelled. “After learning of the audited numbers, it will change some of the things we’re asking for. It’s going to change. It lets us know what our true numbers were. The numbers were not as expected. I don’t want to say that in a good way or a bad way, but it requires us to go back and look at the budget.”

The draft budget for the coming fiscal year projects $1.5 million in spending, with Dukes County towns contributing $491,829 toward the county’s operating expenses.

County officials have so far refused to make public the numbers or the auditor’s report.

On March 6, The Times sent a public records request for the latest audit, and any documents relating to it, to county treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders.

Ms. Mavro-Flanders forwarded the FY2011 audit.

Asked specifically for the fiscal year 2012 audit, she responded in an email, “I have not received FY12.”

The Times sent a third request that noted that Mr. Hallahan had cited figures from the requested audit. Ms. Mavro-Flanders responded in an email, “I am working with the auditor. He has ‘draft numbers’ that are not final. They must be reviewed by a partner before he can give them to me.”

The elected county treasurer, Ms. Mavro-Flanders serves as the county’s accountant for all financial matters.

In a phone conversation Tuesday, The Times asked Mr. Hallahan about the status of the public records request. He said he had seen the numbers typed into a document, but Ms. Mavro-Flanders was “uncomfortable” releasing them.

In an email sent late Tuesday, Mr. Hallahan said he would respond to The Times on Wednesday. As of press time, he had not done so.

County manager Martina Thornton did not respond to an email sent Tuesday requesting comment or to messages left with the county assistant on Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Public Records Act is unambiguous on the status of communications to public officials as public records.

“Every record that is made or received by a government entity or employee is presumed to be a public record unless a specific statutory exemption permits or requires it to be withheld in whole or in part,” according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s guide to the Public Records Act. The law makes no exception for withholding public records in draft form, preliminary form, or uncertified form.

The seven county commissioners, elected for concurrent two-year terms, are Mr. Hallahan and Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, John Alley and Leon Brathwaite of West Tisbury, and Lenny Jason of Chilmark.

The county advisory board includes Art Smadbeck of Edgartown, Jeff Kristal of Tisbury, Walter Vail of Oak Bluffs, Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury, Bill Rossi of Chilmark, and Jim Newman of Aquinnah.