Auditor uncovers $600,000 in Thurman accounts

THURMAN - New revelations suggest a nearly 30 percent hike in 2009 town taxes imposed by the town board in November may have been unnecessary, and that taxpayers could have had a dramatic reduction instead.

This month, the office of the state comptroller discovered that the town of Thurman has a stash of more than $600,000 that town officials say they didn't know existed at the time of the budget's adoption.

Located in the town's general fund, the $600,000 is roughly equal to Thurman's entire annual operating budget.

Town officials are blaming inept bookkeeping for the lack of knowledge of the large sum.

"This town has a history of keeping sloppy books," said Councilwoman Ruth Keller. "We had had horrible bookkeeping practices - I still have a lot of questions regarding the town's funds."

Due to the departure of former Thurman Supervisor John Haskell, convicted in November of defrauding the government, the state has undertaken an audit of Thurman's finances and budgetary practices for fiscal years 2007 and 2008, town officials said this week. The report of the state's findings has not yet been released.

"Over the last several years the town has had between a 90 and 114 percent fund balance," newly appointed Thurman Supervisor Lawrence 'Red' Pitkin said Wednesday. "The typical town has somewhere around a 25 percent fund balance relative to its overall budget."

After Haskell's departure, the temporary duties of supervisor fell to his deputy, Leon Galusha, who was under a pending legal deadline to file the budget.

The confusion and political fallout which followed Haskell's departure, town officials said this week, led to the adoption of a budget which featured the highest town tax hike in Warren County.

These revelations caused town residents to question how this money was hidden away in town coffers.

"All I can tell you is that we were lied to back then," Pitkin said.

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