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Shirley’s accounting practices scrutinized

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SHIRLEY — Another state financial examination is slamming Shirley’s accounting practices, saying the town’s fiscal reports and utility collections are not up to date.

Clerk-Treasurer Marla Kemerly said she takes responsibility for the errors found by the Indiana State Board of Accounts in a report released Nov. 28.

This is the second straight year similar problems have come up: A 2010 audit noted similar lapses and errors in bookkeeping. While Kemerly said in her bid for re-election in 2011 that problems were being resolved, she admitted Wednesday she’s still struggling with technology and catching up on bookkeeping her office has fallen behind on.

“Mistakes on my part, I addressed them,” she said. “(I) maybe made them by rushing through and not going back to double-check.”

Problems in the audit include missing the deadline to file the town’s annual financial report; failing to match receipts with ledger balances; and having a number of outstanding water and wastewater customer accounts.

The report noted one of the outstanding accounts was that of a town council member. Neither Kemerly nor council President Kyle Austin would say which council member owed $277 for sewer service.

But state examiners worry favoritism is happening when it comes to paying for utilities.

“Because there is no written policy, we were unable to determine if customers were being treated equitably,” the report states.

Kemerly said the council member’s account is paid in full now, and she would like the town council to give more direction on how to ensure everybody is paying their utility bills on time.

Austin, however, said a few years ago the council passed an ordinance that if someone is struggling financially with paying their bills, they could be set up on a payment plan.

“You hate to be hard-nosed about it,” he said. “We try to be a generous council, and we’ve tried to work with people, but that doesn’t always work with the State Board of Accounts, and (it) puts us in situations that aren’t good, especially with the town council member.”

The examination does not suggest funds were being criminally mishandled. In fact, Austin said when he and Kemerly met with examiners in September, they explained “by no means was there any misdoings by money being filtered or misplaced.”

“They would have flat-out told us if there was, and there would have been prosecution,”  Austin said. “The issue of money being gone is not the problem. It’s just that they were having problems finding monies that were deposited in accounts and no record of that being shown.”

Kemerly, 66, has been clerk-treasurer of Shirley 17 years. Last year, she defeated her first challenger in a decade, and at the time the town’s finances were a campaign issue.

Kemerly said this is her last term.

“Three (more) years and I’m out of here; you better believe it’s my last term,” she said. “If my husband had had his way, I wouldn’t have run this time, because he doesn’t like to see all the hassle I see all the time I do for the job.”

Kemerly said there have been several deaths in her family the past few years, so her office has fallen behind on its recordkeeping. It’s hard to catch up on old records when there are new issues that arise in the office, she said.

She’s also struggled with the state’s new website that collects information from local officials. It’s called Indiana Gateway for Government Units, and it’s designed to make public information – such as financial records – more readily available to the public. Kemerly said she’s “computer illiterate,” and while she has been trained on the software, sometimes the data she enters does not appear correctly in the system.

Kemerly has a part-time deputy clerk-treasurer, and a full-time employee manages Shirley’s utility billing. She said staff has been going over the errors pointed out in the examination and has been trying to make things right.

“I feel like people look at it and think, ‘She really doesn’t do her job and doesn’t care about her job,’” Kemerly said. “I wouldn’t do that deliberately, I haven’t done it deliberately. It wasn’t done because I don’t care about the job.”

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