Camden Snow Bowl forensic audit report delayed, again
CAMDEN — For the second time in four weeks, the town of Camden has said the release of the Camden Snow Bowl forensic audit report is delayed. The independent audit had originally been commissioned in January, with a Feb. 15 anticipated delivery.
On March 17, Acting Town Manager Roberta Smith said that she and Town Attorney Bill Kelly had met March 14 with Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation members Bob Gordon, George Mueller, Judy Sherman and Eric Flanagan and talked for approximately 90 minutes about the audit.
“We talked about the bigger picture and where we go from here,” said Smith.
She had said March 16 that the town would issue a press release about the report’s delay. She said the delay is due to the amount of material that requires review, the travel schedules of people involved, and the snow storms that have hampered auditor visits to Camden.
Smith also clarified that while the Select Board had designated $12,000 from its own contingency line for a forensic audit of the finances governing the Camden Snow Bowl redevelopment, from 2012 to 2017, the additional $7,000 that was approved by the Select Board in mid-February to pay for more independent help is actually being spent on the town’s annual audit efforts.
“They ran into so much stuff that had tentacles to the Ragged Mountain project,” said Smith, to the extent that the town required additional accounting services.
“There were so many posting corrections that needed to be made,” she said.
Smith, who was Camden’s town manager until her retirement in 2011, agreed to return and help the town in January, following the resignation of then Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, who had replaced Smith in 2011.
The Snow Bowl redevelopment is a public project and financed by a $2 million citizen-approved bond and a $4.5 million fundraising effort by the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation. The project, originally with a $6.5 million pricetag, ran into multiple costs overruns, and the cost increased to $8.5 million
Additionally, the annual Snow Bowl operations hit fiscal obstacles (poor snowmaking weather, mechanical issues with the new triple chairlift), so that in a three-year period, the Snow Bowl accrued a $300,000 deficit.
Taxpayers, at annual town meeting in June 2016, forgave that deficit, and the Snow Bowl began the 2016-2017 season with a $920,000 budget and no deficit.
But that was when more citizens began to scrutinize the town’s fiscal history with the redevelopment project.
By December and January, questions were raised about the finances, to the point that the Select Board agreed to hire R.H. Smith and Co., of Buxton, to perform a forensic audit, and the Select Board agreed to spend up to $12,000 from its own contingency on the job.
How much did the taxpayers take on with the redevelopment, some citizens wanted to know.
In mid-February, Roberta Smith was back in charge the town office, and she told the Select board that any conclusions or audit reports were not anticipated before March.
That date got pushed back again, and now it is April before any report is expected to be made public.
Smith said the March 14 meeting with the Foundation members was to talk “about projected expenditures and estimates,” as well as to assess information that the town has.
When asked why that meeting was not made public, Smith said, “Because I don’t know if that meets the definition of public.”
She said that she is sensitive to getting “the facts and figures straight.”
“I’m interested in what the real numbers are, and where we stand,” she said. “I’m interested in getting the accounts straightened out.”
She said: “We agreed to get them [the Foundation] some of the details so they know what the numbers were to make sure they agree with their records.”
But, Smith also said that the redevelopment project was a town project.
“The Foundation isn’t involved in our accounting,” she said.
And, she said, “We want the report, when it’s done, to be made public, but we want it to be done right.”
George Mueller, who has been assisting with the Foundation’s capital campaign, said March 17 that he and others who met with Smith and Kelly on March 14 discussed figures that were given to the town by the Foundation, to make sure the town and the Foundation “were working with the same numbers.”
The town updated the Foundation about the progress of the audit, Mueller said.
“We understand more work is to be done and that there will be a delay,” he said.
“It’s very important for all individuals to know the next steps,” said Mueller.
What those next steps are, “is a great introductory point,” he said. “It is a difficult time, when we are all waiting for more information.”
Compounding the issue is that construction of a new lodge, which was part of the original project, was delayed, given an almost $2 million cost overrun of the mountain trail overhaul, trail building, new lift costs and environmental remediation associated with mountain clear-cutting.
Mueller said, however, that private fundraising continued on the part of the Foundation and that the “primary goal is to raise money toward a new lodge.”
But, the Foundation now is referring to the new lodge as the Camden Community Outdoor Center, given the more recent emphasis on expanding year-round use of the Snow Bowl trails for hiking, mountain biking, and other recreation pursuits.
How much the Foundation intends to raise for that new facility depends on the audit numbers, which “would determine what we have to work with,” said Mueller.
Smith said March 17 that “the parties are diligently seeking an accurate and informed audit report, which requires internal fact-checking separate and aside from the efforts of the independent auditor. The audit has been delayed due to the amount of material that required review, the travel schedules of the principals and the weather. Because of the current travel schedules and the additional effort involved, the final audit report will be be ready for release until April. All regret the delay, but it is best to have a fully informed independent audit report.”
Meanwhile, the Snow Bowl is about to wind up its 2016-2017 season this weekend before shutting the ski lifts down. Latest numbers from the town’s financial director, Virginia Lindsey, indicate that as of March 15, the Snow Bowl is hovering around a break-even point, with $65,565 cushioning the budget in the black.
April payroll, however, remains to be met, which will end the Snow Bowl’s seasonal responsibility for certain town employees who work at the Snow Bowl in the winter and other departments in the later spring, summer and early fall months.
• Camden Snow Bowl project up to $8.4 million, fundraising resumes (Feb. 3, 2015)
• Camden Snow Bowl to start making snow Jan. 5 (Jan. 2)
• Homage to Camden’s Big T (March 15, 2014)
• By wide margin, Camden voters approve Snow Bowl improvement bond (Nov. 5, 2013)
• Camden committee selects new parks and recreation director (Sept. 6, 2013)
• Camden considers $2 million Snow Bowl bond, ordinance amendments Nov. 5 (Sept. 4, 2014)
• Camden ready to put $2 million bond before voters (Aug. 21, 2013)
• Camden pursues federal money to help with Snow Bowl upgrade (July 10, 2013)
• Camden learns about refurbished chairlifts, woven grips and haul ropes (April 10, 2013)
• Last run for Jeff (Jan. 21, 2013)
• Stellar start to season at Camden Snow Bowl (Jan. 9, 2013)
• Camden’s Ragged Mountain loses a good friend (Nov. 7, 2012)
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