Audit is indictment

An audit by the New York state comptroller’s office confirmed what many around here were already aware of: the village of Forestville does not have a clue as to what it is doing.

Consider this paragraph from the lengthy and highly critical comptroller’s report in regard to Forestville: “The clerk-treasurer’s records for the water fund were inaccurate and misrepresented the fund’s financial condition. The clerk-treasurer improperly reported certain project expenditures in the operating fund, making operating costs appear higher than they should have been. The board prepared annual budgets based on this incorrect data.”

How do village leaders even begin to respond? How do village residents even begin to believe what they are told?

Even before this report became public, the writing was on the wall.

Taxes, in this entity of fewer than 700 residents, have increased nearly 50 percent over a three-year period while water rates increased 223 percent since 2007.

Where could all this extra money be going? To outlandish pay raises for starters.

In 2010-11, the village board approved pay raises ranged as high as 33 percent to 6 percent. The person who received a 33 percent raise that year? Former village clerk Marcia Peterson, who resigned in the summer during the audit investigation due to the slew of record-keeping issues.

But because 30 residents showed up to complain in April 2010 about the incredulous pay hikes, then-mayor and current public works director Charles Brewster thought the turnout at the meeting was too small a slice of the population.

“I’m absolutely concerned with the taxpayers’ concerns, but I’m also thinking you’ve got to do what’s best for the village,” he said then. “But the room wasn’t full, so that tells me that there are a lot of residents that apparently must approve of this budget, or they would have been here tonight to voice their opinion.”

What was “best for the village” in 2010 certainly is “what’s best” for former Mayor Brewster today. In his current post, he benefits from previously pushing through those high pay raises.

Before taking that position, however, his sidekick made sure she got in her two cents about how the village is operated. “We plow the sidewalks, we have our own water system and a fire department,” former clerk Peterson said during a meeting in 2011 in regard to another steep tax increase. “We are a conservative village.”

A “conservative village” does not hand out one-year pay hikes of 33 percent or raise taxes and water rates at astronomical levels. It does, however, keep detailed records and does its best to keep costs in line.

“Conservative?” No way.

Embarrassing? Absolutely.