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June 18, 2008

Colonie Inappropriately Spent $48,000 in
Taxpayer Money to Improve Rod & Gun Club

Town Officials Acted Without Proper Authority;
Relationships with Club Not Disclosed

Colonie town officials inappropriately dumped town soil on the property of the West Albany Rod & Gun Club, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The former town attorney and a former town board member were both involved in the contract with the club and were members of the club as well. However, neither official publicly disclosed his interest in this contract as required by state General Municipal Law. DiNapoli said the town’s actions cost Colonie taxpayers $48,000.

“What happened in Colonie gives new meaning to ‘clubhouse politics’,” said DiNapoli. “Town government should be working for the people, not the private clubs they belong to. At the very least, they should disclose what they’re up to. This didn’t happen in Colonie.”

DiNapoli said Colonie could have received between $15,000 to $30,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds if town officials had disposed of the dirt in the town’s landfill. DiNapoli’s auditors also found the town may have incurred $38,000 in additional costs because the materials were used at the rod and gun club instead of other projects. Albany County District Attorney David Soares is conducting an investigation into the dumping to determine if any criminal charges should be filed.

“I would first like to commend Comptroller DiNapoli and the members of his office for their diligence in analyzing the facts associated with this complex case. The report released by the Office of the Comptroller highlights areas where lapses occurred, which may have resulted in a fiscal loss for the Town of Colonie. Whether those lapses rise to a level of criminal conduct has yet to be determined. It is my understanding that the current administration is presently taking steps to cure the lapses that occurred under the previous administration, and I applaud Supervisor Mahan and her staff for their continuing efforts to safeguard the interests of Colonie taxpayers,” commented DA Soares.

The audit also found that by using town personnel and equipment to dump the soil, otherwise known as fill or spoils, at the club it cost taxpayers:

  • $42,000 more than it may have cost to hire a private contractor to haul it away, which auditors estimated would have cost $6,000;
  • $29,500 more than it would have cost to dump it at a large town-owned site used by the town’s Water Division; and
  • $21,000 more than it would have cost to dump it at the town’s landfill.

Although state law permits town equipment and personnel to be used for work on private property, the work must occur under a valid contract that furthers a town purpose. However, the additional work the town performed at the club, which included grading, parking lot enlargement and resurfacing, valued at about $20,000, benefited the club.

Moreover, neither the town board nor the public works commissioner authorized the contract for the work and the contract itself did not release the town from liability.

Town officials did not handle the disposal of the spoils as economically as possible, or conduct the disposal in a transparent manner to provide accountability to the taxpayers.

DiNapoli recommended that town officials:

  • Exercise oversight and guidance over the spoils disposal program;
  • Develop policies and procedures for the disposal of spoils and ensure that appropriate contracts for the disposal of spoils are authorized by appropriate town officials;
  • Calculate and review costs for all disposal options and document the basis for their disposal decisions;
  • Consider all allowable costs when applying for future FEMA grants;
  • Ensure that any contract entered into for the disposal of spoils furthers a proper town purpose.
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine that the value of work to private property is equal to the value of the benefits the town receives;
  • Develop a policy for the disposal of spoils;
  • Establish a process for advertising sites for disposal; and
  • Educate town officials and town employees regarding the conflict of interest statutes included in General Municipal Law, particularly regarding disclosure requirements.

Town officials generally agreed with DiNapoli’s recommendations and indicated they would take corrective action.

Click here for a copy of the audit.


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