Finance commission lacks numbers

The commission in charge of reviewing the city’s finances voiced concerns Monday that it does not have enough members to do its job.

Four commissioners from New Haven’s Financial Review and Audit Commission wrote a letter to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. Monday, calling for City Hall officials to appoint enough members for the body to find an auditor for the city’s finances by this February. City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said that the city is working toward getting more commissioners on the board.

“We’re supposed to be getting ready to be looking for a new auditor for the city,” Jeffrey Kerekes, one of the four commissioners who signed the letter, said. “We don’t have enough people on the commission to do that work.”

In recent years, DeStefano has struggled with balancing the city budget. To fill a $29 million budget gap for the fiscal 2010 budget, DeStefano laid off over 150 city employees.

Also on Monday, before the auditing commission sent its letter, DeStefano’s chief of staff, Sean Matteson, informed the group in an e-mail that two commissioners have been appointed by the mayor’s office, one of whom has also been confirmed by the Board of Aldermen. But Kerekes wrote in an e-mail response to Matteson that three more openings remain.

Mayorga said that the city works as quickly as possible to fill vacancies, but she said that the process can be time consuming.

“There’s a process that goes along with it and that makes it not immediate,” she said.

The auditing commission was created in the 1990s, commission chairman Martin O’Connor said. Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said that at the time of the commission’s creation, many in the city believed that citizens did not have enough of a voice in the budget process. Before then, the Board of Finance, whose members were appointed by the mayor, handled the budget. When FRAC was created, the Board of Aldermen was given control of the budget, Goldfield said, and the commission’s function was “to maintain some sort of outside review.”

Goldfield said he has questioned the necessity of the auditing commission.

“It’s never been particularly active because I don’t think the charter did a good job of defining its role or providing funding for it, or staffing,” Goldfield said.

Although O’Connor said its function is mostly advisory, the commission is tasked with finding an independent auditor firm to examine the city’s financial statements. The commission is also responsible for presenting a five-year plan that looks at the city’s revenues and expenditures. O’Connor said that the commission has had trouble doing its job with the lack of appointments, and Kerekes said the commission has not been able to meet regularly.

“At present, we are unable to hold an official meeting,” the letter stated. “Our concern is that the [auditing commission] has not had an official and genuinely productive meeting in years despite its charter obligations. Our recent official meetings have been about organizing our work rather than doing it.”

The letter says the auditing commission should select a new auditing firm by February 2010 and submit its recommendation to the Board of Aldermen for approval in March.

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