‘Bill list’ is eye-opener at Pomfret meeting


Pomfret Town Councilman David Penharlow questioned an item on the town’s “bill list” at the meeting on Wednesday.

This is remarkable because it is the first time that any member of Pomfret Town Council has questioned any item on those lists since 2006 (I have attended all monthly town council meetings from 2006 except three).

The monthly “bill list” catalogs requests for nonrecurring payments by claimants.

The list does not include salaries or rents but it includes almost everything else, including utility bills. Amounts range from $3 for a reimbursement request from a town official to $100,000 for purchase of a dump truck. The list is not distributed to the public.

A call for action on the list appears at the top of each monthly agenda, and the supervisor offers the list for approval with a roll call vote of the council. The audit committee prepares the list days before the meeting by signing an approval form for each item. Each form lists the claimant’s name and address, the purpose of the claim and the amount of the claim. Typically the claimant’s bill is attached.

Penharlow asserted that the town needs to introduce a purchase order system as is typical among virtually all U.S. institutions, regardless of whether public or private.

A purchase order lists supplier, item or service to be requisitioned and charge.

An official authorizes the purchase with a signature. High amounts require signatures of the most senior officials. A table of amounts indicates the level of seniority of officials required for approval.

Presumably purchase orders for utility bills would not be appropriate because usage cannot be estimated easily in the face of unpredictable weather conditions.

Similarly, a purchase order for reimbursement of official travel expenses would not be appropriate because of the difficulty of estimating meal charges.

Penharlow alluded to some completed purchases involving high amounts which caught the Town Board by surprise. He stated that the first time members heard of these transactions was when they were presented for payment without opportunity for due diligence.

I concur with Councilman Penharlow that the town of Pomfret needs to introduce purchase orders as part of its requisitioning.

Michael C. Barris, Ph.D., is a Fredonia resident and prepared bill lists as deputy town clerk from 2005 until 2006.