How much did 'financial fiasco' cost Hunterdon, woman asks Freeholders

Nearly a year after the problems in the county Finance Department were discovered, Flemington resident Lois Stewart still has a question.

“How much did the financial fiasco cost the taxpayers?” That’s what she asked at the Freeholders meeting Tuesday, June 3.

Director Matt Holt asked what she meant.

“All the hoopla about the employees and whose responsibility it was for paying people who were dead and all this kind of stuff, all of that Mr. Holt,” she replied.

“I was told by this board that it cost a lot, a lot of money. I would like to know what ‘a lot' is,"; she continued. A Flemington resident, Stewart has a reputation for attending many public meetings and asking questions. She has also asked about the costs earlier.

Holt replied that it was part of the public record, part of the audit report, but that he couldn’t list the specific figures. At least $265,000 has been allocated or spent in professional fees in the case, according to past resolutions and invoices. They include an accounting firm hired to operate the Finance Department, more time put in by another firm on the 2012 audit and subsquent investigtion, and the lawyer hired as hearing officer for the charges lodged against the Finance administrators.

It was at the end of June 2013 when, after receiving reports from the accounting firm doing the audit of 2012 county finances, that the Freeholders took action by transferring three top Finance officials to other departments. Administrative charges were eventually filed and after a lengthy hearing, two employes were fired: Kimberley Browne as finance director and Margaret Pasqua as treasurer.

An appeal of the terminations is pending in court, an action filed by their attorney, Guy De Sapio, a former county counsel.

Holt acknowledged that several hundred thousand dollars was paid out improperly in medical insurance coverage, a situation “that’s been rectified,” and also reported that the county is now in the state health benefits plan, “which has begun to create tremendous savings to us now and moving forward.”

In retrospect, “I am much happier that 2013 occurred … because frankly this county at this particular point of time from both a staff level and a from financial standing, this county is in better than it was position than it’s been certainly in my tenure here and in quite a long period of time,” Holt said.

He clearly wants to move on.

“Frankly, you can focus on the past all you want, right now I’m focusing on the future,” he told Stewart.

She persisted, saying “I’m just thinking that the constituency has the right to know, how much we paid for stuff we didn’t have to pay for?”

She also suggested that “if the previous audit company did not pick up on those things, then that company would have some responsibility for reimbursing the county for some of that.”

“We agree, and we are in the process of working on that,” Holt replied.

Freeholder Rob Walton joined the conversation, saying “it may be part of a court record some day, if you get our drift.”

At the meeting, the Freeholders agreed to a $10,000 increase in the contract awarded May 6 to a firm to fill in as chief financial officer and provide other services. PM Consultants of Brick was originally to get up $10,000 for services during a 60-day period.

The county expects to hire its own CFO to start work in July.

Original article