State auditor sends help to Niles

NILES — State Auditor Dave Yost has dispatched a member of the Local Government Services team to reconcile Niles’ books.

Since 2015, project managers from the state auditor’s office have been reconciling the books, but the treasurer’s office was supposed to start doing it this year. However, numbers for January weren’t available because reconciliation was never performed because of the resignation of Treasurer Janet Jones and the shifting of personnel in the department that left no one trained to do the job.

The city will not be charged for this assistance. Even though Niles already has been in fiscal emergency for more than two years and the state has a policy of helping entities in fiscal emergency for up to two years, Yost made the decision to send in help to get the city caught up.

“Reconciliation is such a critical financial control with an entity like Niles that we simply cannot allow that to slip,” Yost said. “I don’t want anybody telling us we don’t have the money to do this so we’re not going to (charge). The solution to that was putting somebody in there short term until they can get employees up to speed.”

Reconciling the books is indispensable to any entity, but especially cities like Niles that are in financial emergency, Yost said. Yost said it’s time for officials to start weaning off state help to run its finances.

“They are in a position at this point where we would ordinarily charge them if we had to do reconciliation,” Yost said. “Because of the unusual circumstances we aren’t going to charge them for a couple months. It’s time to move out of mom and dad’s basement.”

City Auditor Giovanne Merlo said interim Treasurer Stephen Telego will be on hand as state officials from Yost’s office reconcile the books.

“They are going to reconcile the city’s books so that we can still operate and see where we’re at financially,” Merlo said.

Although state officials won’t actually provide training to the city treasurer’s department, Merlo said Telego and others in the department can still watch as the officials perform the work.

The Democratic Central Committee has until March 26 to name an appointment to the treasurer’s office who must then run for election in November, according to Law Director Terry Swauger. In theory, the city could have three different treasurers by the end of the year depending on who is ultimately appointed by the committee and who wins an election in November, Swauger said.

Yost said he still needs to see a five-year forecast in the black and the city isn’t in a position to be released from fiscal emergency anytime soon.