SHIRLEY -- Dick Hingston, of the accounting firm Guisti, Hingston & Co., summarized the results of his annual audit of town finances and business practices for selectmen on Monday.
Included in the presentation was a "heads-up" on pending state legislation as well as recommendations to correct a few anomalies found in the town's accounting system.
Hingston noted a "variance" he noticed between outstanding sewer-betterment amounts and ledger entries, which he said was "atypical" for Shirley.
"But it was a large number," he said.
It should have been simple to pinpoint the discrepancy but it was not, due to the Sewer Department's outdated reporting system, Hingston said.
"We recommended an updated report," with copies distributed as needed, he said, and with the new format, the books should balance.
Another problem he noted was ambulance billing. Medicaid pays for 80 percent of an approved amount versus the actual bill and does not allow the town to collect the difference, Hingston said.
A similar gap exists between amounts billed and amounts paid via contracts with other insurers, with no viable means to collect the balance from patients who do not pay. The end result is a running deficit that at some point must be written off, he said.
An ambulance-billing review committee was charged with meeting several times a year to add up balances due that are considered uncollectible, Hingston continued, and although the group "wrote off" two or three years of debts, it didn't produce an authorized document to back up its decision, recorded in the minutes.
"We suggest that they start meeting quarterly" to adjust accounts in a timely fashion, he said and that the review committee generate a document signed by the ambulance director or town administrator, with a copy to the selectmen.
The town's trust funds were another concern, but Hingston said he had discussed the issue with Treasurer Kevin Johnston and it would be resolved. Although it's standard practice to bundle fund balances, invest the total and get the best available interest rate -- as the treasurer has been doing -- it's also important to ensure that interest earned on each balance accrues to the fund it is intended for, Hingston said.
Finally, Hingston recommended taking action on a state law that allows one municipality to bill another for its share of retired employee health-insurance benefits. In the past, only the municipality in which the employee worked when he or she retired was responsible for retirement benefits. Now the responsibility can be shared when an employee has worked for more than one.
The scenario works both ways and it will take some homework to collect all necessary data, but "we recommend balance billing," Hingston said. "I definitely think you should send bills" to other towns where retired Shirley employees also worked.
Johnston previously told selectmen he was working on that.